Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014? Get the Hell out of my House

2014, you were shit.

You were, in a minor cosmetic way, better than 2013 when I spent several months face down in a bucket of zinc, expecting to explode and die without ever having the chance to use the epipen, but really, 2014? You were worse, far far worse than 2013.

2013 only brought me a worry about instant death, but 2014? You bought the prospect of a slow, slow lingering life, not by having my heart simply ripped from me (that happened in 2003), but by stapling my eyelids open to watch the pieces of heart be jumped up and down upon, then kicked about this planet, like so much broken stuff that the prospect of mending it all seemed as far as jumping to the moon.

But 2015, you are going to be good to me, are you not? You are going to be lovely and kind and healing and generous and gentle. You are going to be straight down the line, honest and true. You are going to be funny, witty, and wise. You are going to make me laugh with such big rolling bellylaugh laughter that I am glad to be alive and glad that it is 2015, the year when everything just said safe.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Yeah, the rest

Just so I don't forget, like. Apart from Berlin, the monthly home ed triumphs. We need to record them, in case I reach the end of the month and can't recall what we did. Not any of it.

1. The lantern parades: local, various, some burning of a dragon involved.
At one point in all this festival of light and lanternry, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger attended a workshop with our local wicker-botherers, Festive Road, which was being recorded for a programme, but I can't recall which one, nor exactly when it was recorded or broadcast. Apart from that, much wicker bothering was done.

2. More British Museum, more V&A, more British Library.
I am afraid we are regulars. You can probably find me in the friends room at some point, slumped against a cappuccino. The kids are old and wise enough to go an explore on their own accounts, so long as they come back to tell me interesting stuff they found out. That's the rule.

3. They went to the Globe, I went to the RSA.
Yes, I managed this splendidly: I booked the offspring into an event at Shakespeare's Globe then I sloped off with Dig to his Club of Choice, the RSA. I have no idea what education the children experienced, but I gathered it was community based, and involved singing.

4. Latin, Glob Cit, Tiger's rock climbing, and the Media education.
The normal round of lessons continues, including mother's Film Family Fun Night, which this month has been sci-fi based. The geeky Plan-9 and the prescient Brazil.

5. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The lovely, funny, witty and insightful Simon Armitage reading his Gawain version at Sam Wannamaker theatre. (I was very restrained and did not throw panties.)

6. Opera.
Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are opera goers. They don't get it from me, but daddy Dig. I am working on it all with the elbow-length evening gloves and the up-do. This month the offspring clocked up Glyndebourne Touring Opera for Turn of the Screw, then the MET Opera (cineworld screening) with Wagner's 6-hour treat of the Meistersinger.

7. The Imitation Game.
The Travelling Christmas Aunty did her tour of family duty; keen to provide new and stimulating experiences for her jaded travel palette, we took her off to the cinema, having worked out that it could have been fifteen years since her last visit. (But do not tell her this: we are now hard at work on what we think should be her bucket list. So far we have thought about pushing her out of an aeroplane (with a parachute) and burying her alive. We read this experience has been therapeutic for some people in Germany.)

That's it. Someone said Christmas is coming up which means we have parties to attend, and I do battle with holly wreaths.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Feeling weary

Things are stirring in the home ed 'hood. After a (relatively) long period of quiet.

Not simply the trouble-making of the NSPCC, but the Sunday Times article, conflating out-of-school children to vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. Then further debates on changing guidance on children 'missing' education and 'questions in the house'. My guess is the registration and inspection debate will be the gift to home ed for 2015.

Some proper botherers are out for us. They simply can't let us alone to get on with an education. Any link of disreputable behaviour will do. Any suggestion that we are not caring parents providing a fantastic opportunity to live a childhood, or that we are providing the time and space for our kids to grow up in their own unique ways. Nope, none of that is useful for the culture the botherers want to build. Their story is to strew fear, uncertainty, doubt. Who knows what home educators are up to? Training up mini jihadists? Abusing children physically, emotionally, sexually? The secret 'invisible' people undermining normal society?

Please, could home educators just be a bunch of mild eccentrics, gentle people, independent minded people who take on huge family responsibilities? Could we be celebrated as people following philosophies of education that reach well back beyond the Victorian schooling solution?

I'm sure the botherers need to suggest that if all home educators were monitored, then this would address every suspicion they raised for you. Then we all lose. But this isn't an educational agenda, even though that will be the message with the push for earlier and earlier engagement with outsourced learning, closer accountability of childhood, more pressure of league tables, standardised testing regardless of how unique is Tinkertop, greater surveillance of how you're interacting with your child in the home.

It all means less contact time between parents and kids, and more monitored time between parents and kids. You have to wonder what society they're trying to build.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

That was a lesson and a half

We took the kids to visit Berlin. We cranked up a few journeys around the museums, with a few oohs and ahhs of the sights.

I particularly liked the Bauhaus Museum and the Deutsches Historisches Museum. And the upstairs  German Art exhibition in the Brohan Museum. We visited a Christmas Market! And I drank Glühwein in the frosty cold! The Berlin Wall exhibitions were on the list, of course, as was the sight of the reichstag, the Brandenberg Gate, reviews of the lovely Neil MacGregor's observations, and our ongoing, wide-ranging discussions on European economic policies and post-war European politics.

Yippee! say the home educated innocents, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger!

(One day they will be grateful for the parents they had.)

I can't call one particular line of our enquiry in Berlin a 'highlight', because that word triggers all the wrong connotations. But the most memorable lessons in humanity came from the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the exhibition at the Topography of Terror.

I am grateful to my parents. In 1974 they took me out of school for a tour of Germany and Austria. They found it difficult to navigate their relationship with Germany, or to talk about the Second World War, so they took me and my brother to experience together the modern Germany, then walk through Mauthausen Memorial. They left us at times to think out for ourselves what would our values be? Values of individual moralities when faced with social coercions; how we could be led into states of agreement, denial, complicity, resistance, fear or a belief in right and duty. How societies converge, part, forget, remember, move on.

And that's what I wanted to give Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

The memory of enjoying a holiday; seeing beautiful historic buildings, exciting modern developments, the boredoms and panics of travel, then feeling the texture of earth under foot, touching walls and doors and gateposts, moving through cold, practical spaces of death and survival. Such a visit for me in my same-teenage year was a more profound education than I could have gained by sitting in a classroom, staring at a black and white photograph in a school history textbook, waiting for breaktime.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The NSPCC fighting for children

What's the real crime we home educators commit, as we encourage our offspring up your shops, about your high street, down your parks, and in those workshops at the local museum?

We're visible to you. But we're 'invisible to the authorities'.

Word in the 'hood is that we'll hear a little more in the news about the 'seven case reviews published since 2008'.

Then it'll be much, much more, about how 'the authorities' need a compulsory register and an ofsted home ed monitoring team.

(And just when I was a-teaching Shark, Squirrel, and Tiger how to be independent, I'm reminded in that link that really I should tell these kids how they should strive instead to be counted, bean by bean, as a global asset.)

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Clawing my way to a new normality

Thank goodness November has come. October was Rubbish.

But! October will not have as it deserves. It shall not be blasted into micron particles, nor scattered through the universe, never to be assembled again. No! Good things must come from The Evil that was October. Or I am not my mother's daughter. Then, here are the good bits.

1. The British Library.
We are Friends, BritLib and Me. Our friendship is the Direct Debit type (surely one step up from hard cash over the counter).

You can expect to see us strolling hand in hand down King's Cross - me wanting to ogle their lovely books, and them, purring coo-coos at me, making come-hither glances from their shop front.

The only blip in this new affair is that, to pursue it, I have to again pretend it is for our 'home education'.

My protestant misery streak must be coming out. I cannot just say, 'I'm joining the BritLib because I want to walk into their exhibitions when I like'. It has to be because it is useful for a cause greater than this simple satisfaction of not bothering to book a ticket for their (excellent and fun) Gothic exhibition; I must tell myself that throwing my bank account at them is improving for the Griblets; perhaps morally virtuous for the whole family!

I wish I could get rid of this streak. It is annoying.

2. The V&A.
I'm friends with them as well. This is my present to Tiger, who wants to spend days at a time wandering in their hallowed halls. Really, we only can manage one day a month. I like the V&A, of course I do, but I have yet to swoon in their company. Maybe a little more exposure to their lacy embroidery will help. Speaking of which...

3. My Knicker Drawers.
Each of us has a purpose in life. Mine is in my Knicker Drawers. It is going well. I have some brilliant commissions from lovely people, who I admire most of all for trusting me to create for them books of fancy, whimsy, idleness, intent, purpose, poetry and pleasure.

4. MET Macbeth.
Let me pretend we popped over to New York. (Don't tell anyone we went to the live screening at the cinema in Milton Keynes.) But I am a Big Fan of live screening! If you do not indulge in this, you must! Find out the theatre you can enjoy without the train travel, and go!

As an adendum, I also took the Grotlets to the re-screen of the National Theatre's Frankenstein. (Shut up about the certificate 15. They are old enough.)

5. Latin.
All scholarly stuff. Add Global Citizenship IGCSE, the STEM lectures at the local school, and various Future Learn Moocs and other curriculums the Griblets are following in a not very intensive or regular manner.

I suppose I should be on the case everywhere, but the reality is, I'm not.

I introduced the Gribblytots to the exam system last year, so Job Done. Yay Me, Tiger Mother! As far as I'm concerned, they now know what exams are about. They can choose where they go from here, whether they take lots of exams, not very many, whether they wing their way, or whether I have to place a large bribe behind the waterpipes at the local college.

6. Neil MacGregor.
He of the British Museum, the lovely voice, and the wonderfully informative series on Radio 4, Germany: Memories of a Nation. A home education could be had, sat at the kitchen table, eating jam butties, listening to the radio. (Hang on a minute! That's how we do home ed.)

7. Outdoors.
Not simply our evening walk by the Co-op skip. But the wandering in the healing paths of our beautiful natural world. (Or as much of the soothing wilderness we can suck up between the A5 and the A421.)

The best of all (if you are a practising teenager) is running about the woods in Wide Games, organised by a wonderful home educator who I rely on for all small and large matters, from diary management to remembering how to breathe.

I suppose I should also include, under Outdoors, Tiger's Climbing Club and our ongoing Scuba fanbase, aka Shark, off with her underwater diving chums, once a week.

8. Shakespeare.
Specifically, Love's Labours Lost. RSC, understudy performance. See it February if you can't make Stratford. (Live to cinema 11 February 2015!) We have maybe six plays to go before I achieve my (largely pointless) aim to have Shark, Tiger and Squirrel see all Shakespeare plays before age 16.

9. The Queen Galadriel.
Tiger, not to be bested by sister Shark (already dun a week on the sail), snatched a place on a weekend crew with the Cirdan Sailing Trust.

I like the way the Trust positions itself as working with Children of the Disadvantaged. Well, count us in! Consider that joining a sailing crew is our very own Social Inclusion Project.

10. Into Film Festival.
We saw Maze Runner. I don't recommend it. Sexual threat sublimates to cartoon antics (Are you the only girl in a tribe of boys? Throw rocks at them from a tower); terrible script (the character who is told to Shut Up! Shut Up! is female, couldn't you guess) and the bizarre premise of the whole thing.

Say you had a group of teens, preciously immune to a terrible disease that took hold after the earth was destroyed. What would you do? Get them to a lab and study their bloods? (Let's ignore even how the lab exists after civilization is destroyed.)

But No! You would not do blood tests! You would build an enormous mobile concrete maze. You would make a hole in the middle where your teens can live. You would stock the maze with robotic flesh-eating spiders, then watch your teens try to get out. When they do (I spoiled it for you now) you would tell them you never expected they would survive! Before blowing out your own brains. (Or not.) Effective cinematography, a trashy storyline. With robot spiders.

But film is big at Grit's. We sometimes hang out with the local Independent Film Group.

11. Geology.
The Festival of Geology. A fixture of our annual calender. It is always delightful, surrounding ourselves with the gentle geologists, animatedly talking granite. I have put the Pliocene Forest at Sutton Knoll, Rochhall Wood, on our list of things next in Suffolk.

12. Local politics.
Obviously I am not content to drag my Grofalots to the sub-sub-sub-working committee on the future of the Arts charity in Smalltown!

(Probably Not Going To Be An Arts Charity Any More, thanks to a bunch of self-serving devious bastards trustees who disposed of the charity's assets in preparation for closing the lot down. But who said anything about money? Not me. That would be an allegation.)

But I am determined my offspring learn Practical Politics. I took them to a discussion about Milton Keynes architecture, including talks by English Heritage and the 20Cth Society.

13. Sitting in Lidl car park Luton, hugging a bottle of rum that Shark Made Me Buy.
Buying alcohol for my 14-year old daughter is my Parenting First. I am PROUD. Shark said she wanted either meths or rum. I thought about this, then concluded I cannot drink meths. I bought the rum in Lidl because I am usually there on a Tuesday night (woodcraft folk), and Lidl must be cheap on rum, no?*

14. Crude and vulgar language.
Recently I had a brush with a member of my own sex. It was a depressing and dispiriting experience. Mostly, I am a woman led to foolishnesses by my own head. I wonder, What is reasonable? What would be an intelligent course of action? I have developed some sense of what is right and what is wrong based on experience, observation, and thoughtful consideration of the options. Let's think about it.

Pft. I wasted hours and 40,000 spoken words attempting to reason, how, um, I observe that some women, er, women who maybe want to advance their careers? - well, perhaps they use morally doubtful, what I would think of as dubious, exploitative, underhand techniques - perhaps massaging of feelings, blahblahblah, some sexual hinting with some emotional control, and stitching the vulnerable victim into a need relationship, blahblahblah, possibly using the source book Honey Money as inspiration (please don't buy it), perhaps where trade can be had from a teensy bit of hair flicking? But then, blahblahblah, squeezing on the bullying and threatening and foot stomping and the screamings of disloyalty and betrayal if the goods aren't delivered; pulling the strings of the heart, not the intellect in the head; emphasising the change of heart, not the change of mind, as the how to get where, and the means to get what they want. Um, I think the short-hand phrase is emotional manipulation?

See? What a speak of blahblahblah.

Then someone summed up La Femme Fatale with commendable precision. She's a Prick Teaser.

I wish I could have said that. Hail vulgar language. Let it be my guide.

October. Some good bits with the kids. Otherwise, what a fucking disaster, with the vomit brought up by a encounter with a manipulative Prick Teaser dumped on top.

*It would be cruel to spoil this story with its additional bit of information. That Shark is taking a Future Learn course on experiments, such as extracting the DNA from a banana using washing up liquid and meths (or rum). I told her we did DNA already. But then I reconsidered. I reasoned that if we had rum, I could drink it, and blame Shark.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The other September triumphs

Home ed round up. This is how it is now. Wot I did wiv the kids this month. (Except Steampunk and Hilliard, which I see command separate entries.)

Otherwise: quick flyby to throw stuff from the land of parental responsibility before I go and boil a bird's wing.

I have a question for you skeleton botherers. Like, how do I actually strip back all the bones to leave them clean from all the yukky stuff without damaging the bone connecting bits?

Honestly, I bet learning anatomy by practical experience with a dead bird was once as common as fish gutting in a capable woman's know-how repertoire.

1. Medea at the National, except at the live Cineworld screening instead. Totally loved it. I really sympathise with those unhinged Greek heroines. They exist to demonstrate the depths and lows of a single-minded pursuit. Madness becomes normality. Oh yes, I can do that sort of manic chaos any day of the week. Superb performance from Helen McCrory. When the play ended, the bloke behind me breathed, as if for the first time in two hours, and murmured, That's what I call theatre.

2. Global Citizenship course. Kids are doing this with Dorothy. I love it. Someone teaching them how to write an argumentative essay (not me) and they're not smashing up the house or anything! They just do it! (Probably because it's not me trying to get them to do it.)

3. Latin. Hic, hac, hoc. We all get to chant it. I am the worst in the class, but the teacher is good to me. She never makes me stand in the corner facing the wall.

4. Grand Budapest Hotel. Film night. A lovely, lovely film. I thought it was delicate, tender, funny, and wise. Evocative, beguiling, beautiful, silly, whimsical and true. Everything. A treat.

5. A multi-storey car park in Peckham, for the Theory of Everything's version of Titus Andronicus. Billed as immersion theatre, but not really; a sort of ambulatory site specific theatre, with rival gangs locked in a turf war. I wondered, Am I going a bit far with this Shakespeare fetish? Had it been disappointing, I might have thought so, but the whole was done remarkably well, good pipe crawling and abandoned car jumping by the cast. Brave and energetic, I'd say. It may be rewarding to start exploring these theatrical avenues. So if there's a version set in Tesco delivery bay at midnight, I'll be there.

6. Under-17 car club. Putting the kids back behind the wheel after a summer break. The Fire Services Training College in the Cotswolds. I know it sounds unlikely, but in this rural idyll they keep a crashed plane, a collapsed building, and a train smash alongside various collisions, hazards and disaster sites. And the kids drive round it all, while we passengers count the body dummies. I am not on crack or anything. It's all true, and I'm not allowed to photograph it.

7. Night games. Stuff in woods and fields, creeping about with torches. (Cross reference August / Wide Games / Home Ed and it all should make sense.)

8. Climbing club. For Tiger. I am drawing the line at snowboarding. No way.

9. Launch party of photography by An-My Le at MK Gallery. Beautiful, rare photographs have me thinking and wondering for much, much longer than normal reportage photography. Because these aren't normal war reportages, of course. Part film set, part visual poetry, all thoughtful, beautiful pieces.

10. Comedy of Errors at the Globe. A great physical toot-de-toot is made of a very silly play. Enjoyable, and only a bit provocative for an old Grit, what with woman bemoaning the stupidity of man. Tell it like it is, girl.

11. Squirrel's Astronomy weekend. I have no idea. She got picked up, she got dropped back home. The most I've heard from her about this was that she and Monster got a group of elderly astronomers to join in with a game of Werewolves.

12. Dig is in Australia, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan. I thought I would just use the blog as a diary on that one so that when I'm sectioned and the children have to take themselves to a park bench, we can all point a finger of responsibility to someone.
An-My Lê
An-My Lêat MKG. The photography

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Hilliard Ensemble perform Gesualdo, Tenebrae Responsories

Took Shark and Tiger to Highbury & Islington.

I've obviously got the wrong impression about that place. I thought it was a posh side of town! How wrong I was! We could barely weave a way through the police riot vans to reach the Union Chapel. Then the drunks, and the wildmen, lunging through the streets, unable to stand. I held Tiger's hand. Welcome to Highbury & Islington.

A shop keeper had covered all his booze with cardboard. On it was written, no alcohol sold one hour before kick off time, then one hour after match end. I asked, what match could prompt this? I wanted at least Satan vs Peter.

Don't ask me the answer he gave; I forget already. I went there for another place to be moved, and to hear out our battle of human impulses for hope, loss, pain, forgiveness.

The beautiful voices of the Hilliard Ensemble. Gesualdo's Tenebrae Responsories.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Splendid Steampunk at Lincoln!

Fatigued by the world? Jaded and disillusioned with leisurewear and churlishness? Or simply tired of the mad, bad ways of too many people who take themselves far too seriously?

Then put it in your 2015 calender now. A note to spend just one day at Lincoln, with the Steampunk friends of the Asylum.

Here is a wonderful oasis. You will find not only of a delightful gentility, but a relaxation into a world of good manners and good natured decency. A warm welcome is extended to your whimsies and creativities; applause will be forthcoming for your unique and individual approaches to life, and you can always rest from the lashings of glowing good natures to imbibe tea, biscuits, and gin.

If this all is not quite enough, then a splendid couple you have only just met will happily loan you a pet dragon on a chain to stroke while you have your photograph taken.

To all the inhabitants of Lincoln, the Assembly Rooms, the splendid organisers, volunteers and helpers, the agreeable and convivial steampunkers, the very nice young man at Ti Amo, and the Old English Chippy on Burton Road, a heartfelt and happy thank you.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The other August home ed highlights

Traditionally, home educators stay at home in August, hiding. We hide from queues, more queues, and ridiculously long queues, the object of which seems to be for an over-priced commercial racket of any description to rip money out your bank account then spit in your face. (Because you are a family with children. I can find no other explanation.)

But in August, even we home educators go out sometimes. We cannot chain children to their home-school desks all day long. More's the pity.

So here are August's best bits.

Except for RIFT, which I told you about. And Shark's coracle making. That deserves a diary entry all of its own. Although you can forget any pictures. Finding the pictures for Shark's coracle making broke my soul, so I'm not going looking for any more.

1. RSC, Two Gentlemen of Verona. Understudy performance. Which means, cheap and excellent. So we don't get to see the bright names in an understudy performance? Tsk. We do get to see superb RSC actors doing what they're best at, so no loss.

2. A King Lear workshop. Run by me, apparently, although since the children are Shakespeare experts I don't know why they shouldn't run it. Tiger, Squirrel and Shark say I made a mistake about the Duke of Albany while I was demonstrating sword thrust technique. They are right. I think my punishment was too much of an over-reaction. They should forgive and forget.

3. Failing to go to the Milton Keynes Film Festival. I dunno, we just forgot. And it was free, dammit.

4. Sorting out bank accounts for the offspring. Second time we have done this, with a different bank from the first time. The first time, the bank spelled everyone's name wrong. When we tried to correct it, they made it all worse. So we withdrew the 7 pounds 45pence each child has slaved for, and we took it elsewhere. A triumph. I have been threatening to do it for years.

5.Dig is in and out of hospital scenarios. Life is a bastard, there is no getting away from it. Why do I get given a husband I love and then life has to creep about trying to steal him from me. Bastard, bastard, bastard.

6. Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe. The one with Clive Wood and Eve Best. It was delicious. The formula broke by casting Antony with a face like a beat up TV detective, rather than serve up the beefcake we're normally offered. Anyway, in homage to its deliciousness, I have decided to grow my hair long and go a bit Cleopatra.

7. The lake. (Not a play. Actual watery-water lakes) Both of them. The sub-aqua one and the windsurf one. All kids do something. Parents split water-watch duties. It's an achievement.

8. Holy Warriors by David Eldridge at the Globe. I enjoyed it, although a thousand years of history in a couple of hours is a bit ambitious. But it made a great talking point for the kids, and helped me explain Christianity-Islam-Judaism on the train home.

9. Running about woods. This is so normal, I forget it. The Wide Games, organised by San. She and her entire family are brilliant. Even the ones from America. And the dog. If home education never did anything else, it put me in touch with this most remarkable of families, and for that I am life grateful.

10. The Proms. Yes! A triumph of musical mayhem, with a weekend pass to Richard Strauss (not the waltz one); a weekend of Salome and Elektra. Brilliant. Totally loved them. Including the corpse stamping at the end of Electra before she's consumed by the fire of her own rage, distress, revenge, hurt, and chaos. You have my sympathies, sister.

11. Disobedient Objects at the V&A. Very good. A bit text heavy on the minus side, but on the plus side, they did teach us how to make a bucket bomb.

12. Some other stuff. Oh I don't know. Cooking, mooching about the house, kids reading, etc etc etc. Opening envelopes for the exam results. Yes, everyone got a grade, and no-one got a Grade E in their first ever exam. That's not very exciting, is it? But I didn't feel it was right to end at a number 11, that's all. Call it my OCD.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The overnighter with RIFT

I spend a Friday night with the possessed.

When the madman asked me to dance, you can bet I leapt off that sofa and took up his offer.

Tiger hissed WHAT ARE YOU DOING? but, daughter, consider this: the last time ANYONE asked me to dance was 1974. So I don't care who's asking, nor the fact that one side of him is drenched in blood and his hair is plastered to his face, I'm not missing the offer. It might be the last time I get this invite, EVER.

But this is not downtown in Smalltown at the Queen's Head. With witches emerging from total darkness in an underground car park to get us in the mood, it can only be RIFT's immersive overnight Macbeth, staged in the classic brutalist Goldfinger building, Balfron Tower.

(Yes, that architecture needs protecting. So we can all look at it, realise it is a horrible warning, and then we can all chant, We are never building anything like this ever again.)

Well, I thought one or two of the initial newspaper reviews were at times a little grudging, so don't read those. Listen to me instead. It was fantastic. Clever, thoughtful, well planned, carefully executed, a strong cast and a superb Lady Macbeth (who still spooked me a little when I saw her on the DLR next morning going off to get some kip, probably) but with enough layers of storytelling woven together it should keep any Eng Lit student happy for hours. And I still say all this, even after they locked me in the toilet.

Next time RIFT is staging one of their immersive theatre experiences, you must support them. Pluck up your courage for an experience you won't forget, and go. Take your sleeping bag if necessary.

I suspect the newspaper reviewers fled to their dorms and were asleep when the zombies came round. I was in the room where the weaklings were hiding, and we locked the door.

One great home ed outing! Thank you, RIFT.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Overcome by the urgent need for a boat?

Shark builds a coracle. She learns carpentry skills, uses dangerous power tools, avoids taking someone's eye out with a stanley knife, then she sets off up the Thames (with a paddle).

If you too are overcome with the urgent need for your very own water-based transport, contact Alistair.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Ephemeral Pin Up

Okay, I know this is a niche interest group, but there are people out there who make it their life's work, looking at signs. For them, I include this happy mix.

For everyone else, just wondering what goes on at a home educating festival in a field, this does.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Aldeburgh to Minsmere

Just warning everyone. There will be a point in my life when I stay a whole summer in these parts.

I will be wearing sparkly pointed shoes and carrying a battered co-op shopping bag while my children attempt to lead me by the arm while I am chatting up the charming young PCSO.

(At least that's how it happened this year.)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

2015 Memo for Red Rose Chain

This is your instruction. Next summer, visit Suffolk. Go and see Red Rose Chain, Suffolk's brilliant theatre group, cavorting about from a summer base at Jimmy's Farm for their annual Theatre in the Forest.

Whatever they do, it's excellent. This summer, we watch a well crafted, energetic, and clever performance of Comedy of Errors.

Outdoor theatre in a lovely location played superbly, intelligently, with larger-than-life physical comedy, great voice projection, a controlled pace for the audience to be surprised, tickled, delighted, played, wooed and won. Evidence of a theatre team working together at a level that's better than good.

Then see you next year. For what, they won't say. (But I'm betting on The Tempest.)

I don't suppose I could have a batch of free tickets now, could I?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

We humans, we like it to change. And then we want it back the way it was.

Here we are, educating teens at home. (Or rather, in HesFes week, in a field in Suffolk.)

Sometimes, negotiating this teen home ed lark, it's tricky. Things change so fast. Sometimes, when you're not looking.

I can count these tricky bits on my fingers.

1. Children change. Shark, Tiger, and Squirrel. They changed. The stuff they liked last year, they don't like this year (fish, horses, copper beating, Shakespeare and cake excepted).

2. Teen language, attitudes, ideas and values change. It's not the same as in 1973, is it? I have trouble keeping up.

3. I changed. Thank someone's lord that I am no longer required to lay flat out pretending I'm a rowing boat. Neither am I needed at the 10+ Social Club in case of a punch up over the lemonade. At their age 14, now my attention can wander. I need only to maintain a loose affiliation with the bonds of motherhood to satisfy my teens. I can thus dedicate hours of once-maternal-pleasure to stabbing dead cow hide and fondling silkworm poo. I definitely changed.

4. Our home ed activity range changed. Thousands of kids are home educated to age 12! Plenty of optional activities at primary! Then there's the drop-off from age 13. Museum/gallery/science park type workshops (easy to find) are mostly built around primary KSthis and KSthat. Money for old rope, because it comes down to sticking and gluing, poking insects, finding the hidden wotnot, and doing a worksheet. But if you home ed past age 12, you'll find a massive withering-upon-the-vine of the workshops available. Which seems to morph into swotting at home with a text book and curriculum.

5. The friends changed. Once, it was noise and limbs, bramble-clawed legs and chocolate cheeks. Now it's plaited hair and bangles, camomile tea and musing. I watch my teen hippies meet their many-ways-to-skin-a-cat-philosopher friends discuss ambitions in film making, conservation, wolves.

With all this change-this and change-that reflection on living, I am moved to reflect on what we do that stays the same.

Some things don't change (much). Like our annual walk round Framlingham Castle. My routine setting the camera on black and white because I proudly retain the technology skills set of a medieval peasant. And Mr Whippy ice cream in Stowmarket, licked while sat on a bench in the cemetery.

Ah, happy is the repetition.

(Sadly, I do not have a photo of the cemetery.)

Monday, 28 July 2014

Overheard HesFes

Grit is in the mushy stage at the home educator's festival, weaving flowers in her hair, grinning foolishly, and watching your society's future doctors, film-makers, engineers, academics, musicians and lawyers run about, mostly without their pants on, or dressed as leopards.

It'll wear off. As the week goes on, we all sink smellier into the mud; the hair freaks out; the showers fill up with dog-washing toddlers, and Stowmarket supermarkets swell with rampaging middle-class hippies desperate for fresh-baked focaccia because the campsite supply of Warburtons ran out on Wednesday.

But we have our ears to the ground. (Sometimes literally. My new tent is quite small.) And the goss we're hearing:

'Why are we here?' (Small child standing outside campsite; he has my sympathies.)

'Send in the guinea pig. If the guinea pig dies, pee in the bush.' (Teenager, outside main toilets, two hours after arrival.)

'When I bake the computer, that's normally when I have to stop using it.' (Coffee bar adult.)

'I cut my finger on the toilet. It's the same toilet I cut it on last time.' (I am still trying to work it out.)

'Put Wuthering Heights in the tent. Steppenwolf can go in there as well.' (Showing Doreen that home ed is not all feral running about.)

'You spilled blue ink over yourself. Wow. Was it exciting, using a pen?' (But sometimes the feral is still there.)

'What can possibly go wrong? That should be the HesFes motto.' (Outside the office.)

'If the police come to chuck you off, it's nothing to do with us.' (Inside the office.)

'This crowd is different. Yeah, laid back, gentle.' (Car boot trader, commenting on the sudden surge of the blue-haired, hunting down pillows, blankies, books, cooking implements, and kiddy board games. Ahhh.)


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Hello, hippies

Yes! Here is another joyous unprompted missive from Grit, mother of all three of them. When will these letters* to the void stop? Not until the offspring reach age 16. Then I can bribe the local college to take them in. I will kick my heels in joy, knowing 'twas a job well done, preparing my innocents for failure in their life chances - a summing up I heard expressed this week by some minister-or-other.

We live in the usual story. The cultural message is: nothing other than school academia can be glorified. If a child is practical, artist, agriculturalist, embroiderer, wood-botherer, then forget it. Your child failed. Failing to bag top grades in at least 10 subjects at school means, apparently, the end of all life chances. Go straight to a park bench. Do not pass Go. Take a bottle of vodka.

Well, failures like us just need to wangle the system. Maybe 200 cash will do it, stashed behind the water pipes in the science lab. If it works, I will let you know.

Enough of that. We noticed Gove went. I don't think this bit of window dressing will make any difference. Just make me more cynical, maybe.

But wouldn't it be a great job if there was some sort of mass rebellion against the bright and shiny Asia schooling system that's coming our way? We can see it shaping up nicely: private companies picking up the testing structures; interview techniques for your 2-year old, to help them get into the 'right kindergarten'; the imperative on parents to prepare 4-year old Tinkertop for her formal class; computer delivery of more subjects; who needs a teacher when you have personalised remote tech support?; a single curriculum; outsourced educational packages which parents buy for out-of-school support. A shift from public-funded education to short-term business investment.

This is a shift to the marketing of the schooling system - they are huge and juicy budget centres waiting to be tapped - and for that to happen, we need socially compliant consumers. Nak all to do with education, and in all the 'personalised learning' there's no autonomy in it. No independent, individual thinking needed. I would encourage anyone to drag the yoof out of school, except that I think maybe there are enough home educators now.

If we have any more, then the government will think it imperative to control everyone. Even me. The feral ones out here will face an imposed curriculum and monitoring.

Except we won't. Thankfully, we have a huge streak of obstinate bloody mindedness that speaks otherwise.

Which means I am at HesFes with the hippies; the annual group of home educators who congregate in a Suffolk field. I am frankly unusual, with my non-blue hair.

Tiger suggested I should keep this a secret, and not tell you, on the basis that if word got round, then undercover educational psychologists will infiltrate the gathering. Shark said this was nonsense. She pointed out that all the ed psychs, ministers of state, and Doreens in local council departments who would come to scrutinise this lot are from financially restrained departments, and they simply couldn't afford to pay the overtime.

* I must remember the point of these letters is not my stream-of-consciousness but an educational record, to show thinkers and wonderers that education outside of a normal school structure is possible and, indeed, FUN. Recently we have achieved the monthly English group, Shark's sub-aqua, Squirrel and Tiger's weekly windsurfing, Tiger's climbing club, the visit to the British Museum mummies exhibition, a trip to the Sam Wanamaker Theatre to hear the Crystal clan deliver Renaissance songs sung in Original Pronunciation (yes, we are that niche), an excellent tour of the Classical Archaeology teaching galleries in Cambridge, the Global Citizenship group, and the fortnightly Latin group (fear ye not, Doreen, at the council desk. The exam is in 2015). See? The world didn't collapse outside the school gates. Life was interesting, and an education can be wrought in any local community.

Friday, 18 July 2014

In praise of the partners of creatives (or, what we have to suffer)

Dig is home. (Until he returns to Hong Kong, that is.) But don't I know about it? Because he's here writing, which means yes, I suffer. Like Dante in his circles, I will experience all 128 pages of book-creating pain.

I think it has reached page 16. But the experience is already so bad that I have half a mind to post the architect of this distress back early to Asia with a letter that reads, Here, you have him, and welcome. P.S. I drained the bank account.

But my sympathies are not with the mangled creative spirits of him and his ilk, not at all. Quite frankly, I have heard it up-to-here with their afflicted geniuses battling tortured souls to wring out distilled wisdoms and wondrous thinkings. And don't they go on about it?

No, my sympathies - my quiet expressions of empathy, my supportive glances, and fond hand-holdings - are with the person who has to live with it all. I sympathise, totally and utterly, with you partners/wives/husbands to these work-at-home-at-the-computer-screen types.

Just for the record then, here's what we partners to the tortured creatives have to put up with.

1. The hair pulling, groaning and sighing.
Starts before page 1 is even attempted. One week in to a 6-week process and we have to watch how the tortured soul is on the verge of breast-beating and clothes-rending. If, one morning, I discover it writhing on the floor chewing the carpet, well, I recommend stepping over the soul wracked with pain to get breakfast because a bowl of Frosties is preferable to wasting effort on your vocal chords saying Are you alright down there?

2. The distracted demeanour.
Specifically, the tortured soul spends weeks staring blankly at walls; gazing to a remote point by the left ear of anyone making sounds (commonly known as talking); ignoring any person, event, or situation (including minor house-fires and collapsed ceilings); and forgetting how to breathe. This last near-fatal forgetfulness is combined round here with dramatic hand-raising over the keyboard in a prolonged moment of word-based genesis.

3. Uselessness.
The tortured soul cannot do any practical tasks, none at all. No putting out the rubbish / helping mend the gate / hanging out the washing. Nor can they answer any practical questions like What do you want for dinner? or Did you put the iguana in the fridge like I asked you to? (This is the only fun we get, just forgive us. The tortured soul can't hear us anyway.)

4. No sense of time.
The rest of the household has a sort of pattern (even if, in Shark's case, the day starts by crawling out of bed at 11am). But the tortured soul has trouble keeping up with simple, basic clockery, confusing night and day with morning and supper-time. It is like you are permanently jet-lagged. Personally, I could cope with this temporal dislocation, because I have troubles myself with the hour hand, but this lack of time-sense is a killer when combined with Creative Issue Number 5.

5. Distraction.
Oh yes, we all suffer from this. Have a difficult form to fill in? How about the ironing! The stairs need cleaning! (No matter if you live in a bungalow.) The dusting is urgent! Well, it is ten thousand times worse if you have a 128-page book to write. By page 2 the entire study needs a re-build and the kitchen needs dismantling because the kettle is in the wrong place. If only I were joking! One morning at 5am I came down to find Dig sawing up my cupboard.

6. Smell.
I apologise for this, but truth will out. Personal care routines are the last thing on your mind, admit it. The tortured soul may forget to, um, wash behind the ears, shall we say? Partners, wives, husbands, we have to put up with this lack of grooming until by page 7 you have turned into some hairy sprouting alien creature we can only approach if we are holding a lavender pomander and a broom handle. I have considered just spraying the soul with the garden hose. (If anyone has tried this, I would like to know whether it worked.)

7. Irritability.
Of course we partners of the tortured soul are not all indifferent to the suffering! We love you; we want to help. Sometimes, you may even ask us to help! Perhaps with a bit of reading, light editing, or a safe person to whom you can explain an idea in infinitesimal detail while we grunt yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, and meanwhile plan the daily meals for the coming year. But then what happens? After we helped? You rouse yourself to irrational anger, stare in disbelief at the monstrous wrong we have done to the integrity of your life's work! Your vision! (Moved the comma.)

8. The need for The Other.
This, I observe, is an essential ingredient of the creative soul. It must find an oppositional thing/object/dog to explore and test the boundaries of the tortured ideas in progress. Sadly, the partner/husband/wife must take this role when all else has been broken and the dog run off to lick its wounds (or in that fine example of Eric Gill, sit down for a while). This is a truly miserable haunting to inhabit. We, the partner/husband/wife, must be The Other. Someone to kick against. Yet we must be both sympathetic to the genius (you are doing great, your book is wonderful, etc. etc.) and simultaneously be made the scapegoat for all disasters, wrongs, and why, why, why, after 12 months, you're still on page 9.

9. The way life needs to be lived now, before it can be further writ.
Such pleasure is not only reserved for fiction writers! Non-fiction writers, biographers, composers of reports, policy documents, training manuals and workshop materials. You are all the same. Serious, in-depth research is needed, possibly for years, before a single sentence on the political implications of the comma can be committed to page 3. The history of Argentina may be related, so worth stopping everything for a month's further study, and maybe a 2-week visit. The implications of the 1925 trade agreement between Burkino Faso and a grocer's in Hexham could be crucial. Better delay page 12 than get the facts wrong!

10. The awful, awful, deadline.
If it were a play we would now reach Act 5. The dreadful pit of fiery Hell with the Master of Despair, Lucifer himself, swinging open the fearful door, yawning to embrace your tortured soul. But wait, Satan, wait! He is only on page 13! Truly, the tortured soul now embarks on a tremendous gnashing of teeth. Everything would be alright if it wasn't for the bloody awful audience expecting so much! And the publishers who are always on your back! And the printers who mess it up every bleeding time! The warehouse staff who sent the last box to the wrong place! They're in on it too! The dog has run off with the cat, the comma was moved to fatal effect, the Other isn't speaking to you and there's no-one left to blame but yourself. (Better start redrafting that email to explain why you just missed Deadline Number 3, Extension 4.)

But every cloud has a silver lining, does it not? We partners of the creative souls are strong, and constant. Loyalty, steadfastness, blinkered stupidity, call it what you will, we know it will come right. We can see the touching and affecting vulnerability you can show, in all the horrible 128 pages; the boy in the man or the girl in the woman, we know how you struggle for the ideas that must, somehow, be true to the vision.

Let us keep hold of this, that is my way, because round here it may be the only thing now keeping the creative soul from the door with a suitcase launched at his head. The hopefulness that when it is all done, we partners, wives and husbands can look back and hear, I'm proud of that. And you were right about the comma.

Monday, 7 July 2014

I count the small things

Have I lost you yet? Have I? My statcounter suggests three of you are still here. Welcome! Welcome! Sit down and have a cup of tea!

Yes, all three of you. Two of you may want to move your chairs, however, because I still satisfy a niche market in vacuum cleaner porn. (A photo of my Dyson is strangely popular in one German household.)

Anyhow, the gentleman (I'm assuming, I know) will depart soon enough, and we can get on with the report of educational matters for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, detained as they are at Grit's pleasure while she indoctrinates them outside of all normality.

Well, first off, I am living in the House of Teenage. If I recommend a book / article / MOOC, or suggest any idea in any discipline beyond 'What we can have for dinner', then I may as well have damned the day to Hell, sent horned devils flying in its wake, and sounded the trumpet to mark the start of the apocalypse.

Precisely, parentally: I now stay away from 'stuff we are learning'. I contribute very little to it. Not much that I can say to my teenage brood is of much use, has any sense, brings any merit or worth, nor may even be intelligible, never mind intelligent.

But I am much comforted! Especially by reading how half a teenage brain closes down. (Probably just before it stares at you in disbelief, tramples on your humanities, then slams the bathroom door in your face.)

But I can still say some words that have value! Such as 'Do you want to go to the Globe' and 'You can have pasta for dinner'.

Then let us have a count up since the last missive!

1. The Globe. Specifically, Titus Andronicus (marvellous, brilliant, dark); Julius Caesar (wringing every word out, with real tears); The Last days of Troy (had to swot up on Homer before we went).

All the Gritlings are happy at The Globe. We are now nerdy types who arrive at 11.59 to the groundling queue, then chat with the one person who has waited since 11am about important questions of the day, like 'Who have you seen on stage wear boots with zips?' and 'I wonder what happened to the Renaissance bootlings to bring about this anachronistic footwear catastrophe?'

2. The RSC (Henry IV Part 2). Utterly professional and tippety-top with the delights of Oliver Ford Davies and Antony Sher lighting up the stage. I disagree though with the pamphlet. It is not a 'heart-breaking conclusion'. Buy me a gin and tonic and I'll more than happily share.

3. Other theatre stuff. West Side Story (procedural; needed to be done), plus an outdoor Midsummer Night's Dream with London Contemporary Theatre (disappointing and lacking in energy), and La Boheme at the Royal Opera House (schools performance).

The one problem I have with all this artsy-fartsy background is that two of my brood now want to be scientists. I am not 100% sure how to help them achieve that, beyond throw cash about for tutored science courses and hope the local college looks upon them kindly.

4. The IGCSE in Global Citizenship. I utterly, utterly, recommend this course. Dorothy is tutoring the Gritlings along with a.n.other, getting me off the hook. But I get to enjoy the benefit of rattling on endlessly about anything and everything, from Sharia law and the history of women's rights, to the geography of Nigeria and the population of Yemen. The Gritlings tune out after five minutes, which is even better. No one can stop me.

5. Pasta for dinner. We have achieved precious little else, unless I count Latin, an art workshop with Fimo, and Shark, Squirrel and Tiger sleeping out in someone else's garden overnight. (Their mother, I have been told, was kind. Whereas when they stayed all night in our back garden under a bit of old plastic hung between two trees, I locked the back door, which meant they had to wee in the bushes.)

I think that could be all. It is not much, I know. I am scouring around for other details to record. I am keeping up with the laundry, bought a garden bench to replace the busted hammock, am over the worst of the minor breakdown. Apart from that, nothing to report. xx

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Talk to your teens

Grit: Hullo Squirrel! Would you be willing to help me with the laundry?

Grit: Hullo Tiger! Would you be willing to help me with the washing up?

Grit: Hullo Shark! Would you be willing to help me with the cooking?

Shark: Uh-oh. You've been reading those parenting books again.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Still afloat

You and me both, let's breathe a sigh of relief. It was the right thing to do. Pare this blog to a grudging fortnightly post on all educational disasters triumphs. I quake in fear at what I'd be spilling from misery grit's life now, becos it All Goe Rong.

Well, let's get it out the way. The All Goe Rong. In the last two weeks I have made a great nuisance of myself in many areas, to wit: matrimonial, financial, sisterly, professionally, and, worst of all, am now persona non gratis at the Village Hall. Then I had a fight with a taxi driver.

In the taxi driver incident, I would not normally involve myself. Normally I would be too busy, protecting my cowardly arse, peering out from behind the local tree/Squirrel/lace curtain. But I felt I needed to wade in because a) it was happening at my gate and b) a young man was screaming I've just had a baby! It was in a pitch that suggested he was about to follow with And now I'm going to thump you! Unfortunately, the fule taxi driver - unaware how Grit was brung up with a bare-knuckle mentality when someone is roode to her and her kind - treated my helpfulness in a less than gentlemanly manner. While my arms were windmilling at him, an off-duty policeman arrived promptly at the scene to bring matters to a calm conclusion. (In case you're wondering, I will not be prosecuted.)

See? All Goe Rong is only partly due to a handling breakdown on my part. Other people have played roles in it. Like the ungallant behaviour of Mr Taxi; Dig taking an extended holiday fieldtrip in Japan under doubtful circumstances; close family members getting married on the sly; people continuously asking me, Are you going to pull out? Are you going to pull out?; the High Street Bank changing my finances without telling me; and the emotional trauma of all local politics, specifically the ongoing saga of an untrustworthy cabal of trustees suspending our local arts charity, then flogging Smalltown's beautiful and historic Grade II listed theatre to a bunch of Evangelicals for less than the price of a 3-bed semi.*

Of course, in all these Gone Rong times, some things remain alright!

I am loved (by people I feed, mostly). I have a roof over my head (do not count the hole for the drip). And I have friends in people like Ellie and Peepah.

Everyone needs friends in their life when life is shit, do they not? I can recommend Peepah for telling it like it is, and Ellie.

Everyone should have an Ellie. Ellie is a delight, because she is a compendium of stuff you can't make up. Like the tale of the woman who stays on this side of England because she can't cross bridges, or the story of the man who attacked his washing machine with a mallet, or the consequences of impulsing-buying a bargain four-foot block of granite. (On that score, everything will be fine. You merely need to hire industrial lifting gear, remove the kitchen window, cut a hole in the brickwork, re-lay the kitchen floor with a concrete pad to take the weight of the granite, and have it all sorted by collection day, Tuesday.)

Ellie also did something else. She sent me a dead bird through the post, one that she'd found in her garden. Wrapping it in plastic and sending it second class over a bank holiday suggested some lack of thinking ahead re the actual decomposition, but it has nonetheless kick-started my new collection of dead birds.

To this end, I have had a very useful conversation with a man hunched over a bacon sandwich at the back of a crystal healing shop on the subject of how to strip baby bird skulls in a way which doesn't include sticking your dead bird in a saucepan and boiling the brains off it. I needed to have this conversation, I really did, because now I have quite a collection and I want their skulls, so I was hugely grateful he took it all in his stride and merely chewed thoughtfully on his bacon sandwich while I explained my dilemmas.

Other moments have helped me calibrate how fortunate I remain. Not least the long, sad conversation with the homeless man in the car park at Lidl in Luton. (This is how I spend my Tuesday evenings, thanks to Shark.) Find ways of being kind to your fellow humans, that is the upshot. We all, at times, walk close to that perilously thin crack in the earth; one side everything is fine! And on the other side is utter chaos and disintegration, with the terrible logic of depression pulling you down like gravity into a chasm.

But! There are the real successes! Like the joy of seeing my daughters take control of a dangerous vehicle with the Under-17 Car Club (although Tiger managed to dent the inside of the driver's door after a particularly difficult reversing-round-a-corner). Then we had a fine, non-wet day! Squirrel created a lovely fire from twigs, the local newspapers and 200 boxes of matches. And I decided to launch my Titus Andronicus range of Garden Furniture! (Not really. I'm fantasising there really is a place for a set of plastic garden chairs splattered with immovable red paint.)

Then, most astonishing of all, a sudden drive to Ipswich Dockside to deposit Shark on a tall ship to become part of a youth crew, learning how to sail a proper big ship at sea.

Yes, I picked her up today. I was anxious about this all week. My daughter, floating about the English Channel with a ship load of home ed students. It will sail back into Portsmouth like the Ghost Ship. Eerily empty, bar a strange mist.

Her tall ships experience was not like that at all. It was a no-frills real experience where she had a proper taste of life as an active and responsible crew member. She is all filled with new words and phrases that she speaks with real knowledge and respect, like bosun, heads, tender, and the skunk got hanged. Even better, she has also learned how to arm wrestle, swear, and play cards.

But I consider my ups and downs. As Shark proudly holds her certificate for Competent Crew, this one success alone probably outweighs All Gone Rong, and for a few more weeks yet.

The Queen Galadriel. Proof of life, not sinking yet.

*allegedly. They are handy with the lawyers.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

'Even failure can be a form of success'

Yes, I find myself saying this, and other positive statements of world worth, after Yesterday.

Because we can now tick another Experience Box. Exams. Tiger and Squirrel sat the first part of an IGCSE Chemistry exam, and Shark blew up her IGCSE Geography, scattering corpses in her wake.

Strictly speaking, Squirrel did not actually, knowingly, sit her exam. I drove her to a sports hall in a school that looked like a Corporate Headquarters, maybe Corporate Admin Supplies Ltd, and I deposited her into the indifferent care of an invigilator while Squirrel's face bore a puzzled look of Exam? What is that? Am I sitting an exam? But how? I am standing up! And what is this thing, exam?

But Squirrel has a winning way of looking simultaneously charming / deluded / off-her-face / bewildered / dream-filled / hapless - all achieved while smiling, so you forgive her all, and I hope the invigilator put a pen on her desk, and I also hope Squirrel picked it up sometime while the clock did that turny-hand-thing.

Tiger, well, she surprised us all. I thought at the mention of the word exam - in fact any word that begins with the letter e and possibly has an e in it - that this would provoke the most enormous, wallpaper-chewing meltdown, where the family barricaded ourselves quivering in the cellar, calling the helicopter police to tasar her on the rampage.

Astonishingly, Tiger determined the letter A should follow the word exam and she's gone for it, having spent the last 28,000 hours with her face stuck in 450 Chemistry books. I wish her well.

Shark? What can I say, except it could be a race to last place.

We had an almighty fight about the IGCSE Geography last month - a fallen angels and rising devils sort of argument - which helped not. Shark since then spurned my generous advice about diagrams and how to hold a ruler over a river. Then, while a misplaced sense of confidence settled into Shark's exam preparation (whatever form that took), the bastards changed the exam specification, probably while I was sulkily staring into a notebook for cuddles and consolation. The upshot was, Shark had to approach the experience with the heroic daring of an Eddie-the-Eagle style assault. I expect she can resit, sometime after she has actually read the chapter on rivers.

Then yes, failure is a form of success, because it is not a failure to experience. Experience is only ever, success.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Best Made Local*

Grit will be just by the car park on Saturday! Come and see me!

Well, the old hippy will be there if her face doesn't blow up or the kids don't set the house on fire.

And if you have no idea why you should buy a hand-made, leather wrapped, personalised book, stitched with perfect love and a magical dash of creative quirk and storybook whimsy, then - to start you thinking on your particular desire and need - here are some delicious books I've stitched up so far:

First wedding anniversary - celebrate one complete year of marriage with paper. And no divorce yet!
Garden book - to collect plant notes, garden plans, weather lore.
Music notes - book to collect snatches of sound in a month-long music project.
Graduation present - made to a discipline, whether it's history, psychology, archaeology...
Story prompting book - book for the creative writer to muse with, play with, and fantasise over.
Birthday present - lots of requests for this type, personalised with name, theme, preferences.
Confessional book - made to a theme; I keep secrets.
Grandma's book - to fill with family notes, kid photos, ephemera, and words of wisdom.
Geology book - for the rock obsessed to fill with bus tickets as they visit South America.
Holiday memories - fill with your tickets, receipts, pressed flowers, sand from the beach...

Not actually a book wot I stitched. 
To see those, you'll have to go over to Knicker Drawer Note Books.

Now you obviously want to come and buy a present (very reasonable), or place an order (very reasonable), but also know that May is National Craft & Design Month!

National Craft & Design Month! is an initiative to raise awareness of the enormous amount of creative talent we have in this country. So just think! By supporting Grit's Independent Trading Company you'll also be contributing to the national endeavour of loving your local eccentric. Think of them. Without pity. Driven by love, they sit in the spare bedroom/shed/studio (under the name of craft) doing things to wood, ceramics, textiles, gem stones, paint, soap, leather (hello!) and, if the lovely lady blacksmith is there, twisting metal into desirable wall shapes.

What else can you possibly need in life? But a hand-made item made with love. Come and see Knicker Drawer Note Books at the wonderful Best Made Local, Saturday 10th May, 10am to 4pm in the Buckingham Community Hall, Cornwalls Meadow, Buckingham.

Apparently, 'this bright and spacious hall is situated just off the high street and there is a very large car park'.

There is also coffee and cake.

*Advertising without shame

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

After easter

I suppose it is time again. Another bleedin' home ed round-up.

Kid brain state of play? I have no idea.

There, the LA can wave hands in proper despair, denied the monitoring of what is going on in Squirrel's cranium.

All I can say is, from my point of view, an education is aimed at, and in some cases, provided. I mean, these kids are teenagers. How much can you expect from the soul-sucking experience that is interacting with a teenager over the breakfast table?

But here then, never down-hearted, are the present aims of my gritty provision.

1. Create, in Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, the characters of active, concerned citizens. (Synonymous: be a right nosy parker and a general pain in the arse.)

To this admirable end, I took Squirrel, Tiger, and Shark to a sub-sub-committee meeting for the working group of the town council, convened to discuss the sale of charity assets and funds management of the local arts charity (status: pffft).

Yes, I took the juniors to watch, reasoning how Shark, Tiger and Squirrel need to observe engagement in local politics by adults with very little visible humour (and much less passion), reach conclusions that are virtually ineffective.

After the offspring watched the slow turn of democracy (at the weathering rate of a pre-cambrian rockface), I insisted everyone consider the relative advantages and disadvantages of direct action. Specifically, the dead-fish-through-the-letterbox procedure. (Shark voted me down.)

2. Create all-rounded human types.

I do this via Shakespeare. Now just feel free to breathe a big sigh of relief that you're not a member of my family. King Lear at the National; a workshop on Much Ado at the local park; a quick trip to the RSC for Henry IV Part 1. Tick humanity.

3. Create people who can stand on their own two feet.

I take them rambling. Interestingly, I do not have trouble levering the gritties out of bed for walkies with the Ramblers. (Please forgive necessary self-congratulation as I look back on years of being eyeball-deep in ditches and cow shit.)

It is all good. And we learn much about the other world that is, in my frank opinion, bad. As in, the gritties juniors recently met a newly schooled-chum; she complained the girls at school talked nail varnish. The girls who climbed trees were home educated. (We are now using the phrase 'gone to the woods' as meaning lost to the nail varnished society.)

4. Create people who know stuff.

Take from this what you will, but round here it means read The Importance of Being Ernest, tackle the general problem of recycling computer waste, narrate how to drive a car (thanks to the Under-17 Car Club), watch past episodes of Frasier, and institute a chip-shop-tea-rota under the guise of supporting local businesses (when in reality mama is off with her Knicker Drawers and cannot be bothered).

You could also add, swotting for a couple of IGCSE exams.

5. Create people who are capable of being independently employed, able to adventurously embark on quirky, creative projects demanding all the skills of their 3Rs, to wit: Resourcefulness, Responsibility, and Respect.

Work in progress. Watching mama emerge from the back room clutching a Knicker Drawer creation is, I'm claiming, a good model to copy.

6. Create courteous, sociable, generous, and kind young ladies.

Capable of talking to anyone.

There. Done. Yay me. I am fulfilling my statutory duty to provide a suitable education otherwise than by attendance at school. As required by the (1996) Education Act (section seven).

Thankfully, the law does not require the LA to assess the quality of the provision. Nor does the law require the LA to insist particular subjects are covered in any particular methodical way.

If it did, I'd be stuffed.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Control their playtime

I had to come away and be sick.

Wilshaw praising the nursery where 'playing was well directed'. Part of that campaign to get your child into structured learning from age 2.

Parents, remember. To learn properly, structure your child's play. There must be a point to play. Do not let your child's play ramble on about unicorns and willow trees or bring in senseless nonsense like ham sandwiches. Get involved in your child's play. Stop it from being dangerously out of your control. Make it go in the direction where there is a teaching point to be made.

I have just one question about this process. When you have followed government wisdom to direct your toddler's play, made all their day your property, told them what to repeat in their exams, and ordered them to follow this educational step-by-step guide without deviation, how do you expect your child to become a creative thinker?

Fortunately, there's enough of us out here making an alternative. Find out where we meet and take along your toddler to get involved.

Monday, 31 March 2014

'How will they catch up?'

'How will they catch up?' Add expression of bewilderment.

Now you have the question posed to me yesterday in my accidental meeting when they found out what I'd kept - for the sake of social nicety - hidden. That my children have never been to school.

But by then I was tired of keeping up appearances. I was ungracious in reply. We were unlikely to meet again. I became, shame on me, a bit mean.

But the question is telling. It betrays the idea that children should not be out learning in a non-managed environment. Is it really an education? Climbing trees, wading in rivers, running across fields chasing butterflies? Children must be managed to come to a uniform level; to make this mark; achieve an expected grade, by this age. It must be so, with each new year.

It's an idea that has no educational basis. Teachers, educationalists, people who see how humans grow, know how all people grow at different rates; they learn skills at different ages; they can walk, talk, read, at their own steady pace, learn about the world, at their own steady, human pace.

Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 - this managed, monitored, bought-in learning regime made suitable for children, it's an agenda that suits those corporates now working in the educational delivery business.

Every child should learn the same things by the same age? We can help!

The argument could go like this: dismiss that unqualified teacher, kick them out, and place your child in our managed and progressive learning experience, best where we can test them, feed back their results, so you, parent, classroom supervisor, technician, know which box has not been ticked; now we all know where to focus energies, so each child can make the grade, bang on time, just when they should.

First we need to downgrade the teachers.

And we need to demand everyone is doing exactly what they should.

Then we can suggest the corporate edu-business provides every parent who cares about their child's future with a monitored child-based educational service delivered straight to your learning platform (annual fee payable).

My bet is on Pearson.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

It may be a local charity, but it's a national lesson

Fortunately! We live in a time and place filled with life lessons!
  • How to leach public money into private hands.  
  • How to go about asset stripping
  • How to behave in a way which is technically legal but which suggests you have the moral compass of an alley cat.
Yes! these ways - liquidating assets, potentially transferring charity cash into the coffers of a private company, potentially winding down an arts charity, setting up cabals of private companies to contract and sell services to each other - they're all technically legal!

We may have just a local charity, but it's a national lesson in how life works.

Then truly, I do not have much of a voice. And I, like hundreds of other local residents, have no expensive legal teams, either.

Please click over to my local arts charity - place where Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have enjoyed dance, drama, willow bashing, and buying fluffy buttons from the old ladies at the WI craft - and measure how the locals feel.

Creed Street Theatre and Arts Centre.

And if you really want to help, sign the petition to ask the five trustees to withdraw the sale of the building and stand down.


Don't believe grumpty ole Grit? Check out the comments: 

'Places like these nurture creativity, bring communities together, support individuals and inspire people to face life's challenges. How can thes trustees have been allowed to do get this far? This centre must be saved for the whole MK community'

'I feel betrayed by the current trustees. This building has been a key part of community life in Wolverton and has provided a generation of children with their first encounters with the arts.'

'Community. Not Profit.'

'Creed at theatre was central to my early exposure to the arts and is a major part of why I now work as a filmmaker. I want young people to continue to have access to this vital resource and be influenced as I was.'  

Monday, 10 March 2014

Is it March already?

Triumphs! Disasters! Miseries! Cups of tea! Value packs of gingery biscuits consumed at speed in fields!

Apart from those, take the month's bits, fished from our home-educational cauldron.

1. Blood, guts, revenge, as in The Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wannamaker Theatre. Fulfilling Part One of my historically-themed Jacobean fantasies (sub-section A; dressed). I was reluctant to pay for it to be realised, but I had to. The only way to explore the innards of this exciting new theatre next to Shakespeare's Globe in London is to hand over the cash. The theatre's first offering: Webster's bloody revenge drama.

Yes, beautiful, desirable. You must visit, obviously, soon. When the Americans hear about this place, your chances of a seat are nil. Candlelit, wooden-interior reconstruction: wonderfully done, but too, too clean; feel free to grub it up a bit with feet and fingers. Go easy on the tongues. The old ladies tell you off for licking.

As a theatre space, hmm, not sure. It's Jacobean. Both its strength and a weakness, if you bring your 21st century consciousness to proceedings. Like an expectation to see the stage? I missed the bleeding corpses at the end thanks to my half-view (standing at the back, cheapskate for a tenner, restricted view). But brilliant potential for nose-to-nose intimacy if you pay for the pit. And no feeling yourself when you're down there because you'll put the actors right off. (Maybe that was a memo for myself.)

The Duchess of Malfi, by the way, didn't quite work for me - Bosola's lines were, for example, delivered a little too laid-back and languidly for my taste. And more. (Shark, Squirrel and Tiger benefit from such critique-yak, so if you're educationally watching, you can add the hour's critical discussion on theatre experience for the train afterwards and call it English Lit.)

2. Music of slightly dangerous unpredictability, as in the live Radio BBC2 Folk Awards, Royal Albert Hall. Anything could've happened! Jarvis Cocker was there!

I indulged us, reasoning that I cannot afford four tickets to Cambridge Folk (unless someone hands them out for free), and I am running a home education curriculum in music.

Now I feel better about indulging myself! Folk is ticked! (Don't tell anyone we haven't got a music curriculum.) (Or that we don't do terms.) (And shut up about parents simply using home ed to get what they want.) You never know, I might be suddenly driven to have the little grits enjoy a Grunge-Metal-Punk mix.

3. The spice of anti-semitism or social satire? Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare's Globe. The Deutsche Bank financed production, aimed at the youth market. Damn those bankers and their educational outreach! Just when you want to despise the lot of them. (Note to home educators: try and get free tickets.)

4. A few frail Georgians at the British Library. I want to be excited about dropping this into the education cauldron, I do, but no. The exhibition reaffirmed my understanding about the Georgians but missed the crucial life stories. I left knowing about the times and all, but not much more about Mrs Miggins and her like who made it: those who rose or fell, won or lost, succeeded or failed.

Kids agreed, and we all wondered, what is wrong with learning about the Regency from Blackadder?

5. Trading Vikings at the British Museum. Yes, we got chucked out after 20 minutes. Did I know there was a private party? I did not. They should be clear about these things. I should have blagged my way back inside. Anyway, the exhibition is fine. Lovely brooches. Go and see it. Scholarly, informative, well displayed, probably not extensive enough.

On the other hand, the first reviews of this exhibition right pissed me off. They are much of a type: men revealing their blokey-jokey attitudes towards 'rape 'n' pillage', then lamenting how little 'rape 'n' pillage' they can enjoy from the British Museum's Viking exhibition. Get some learning in Baltic trade and drop the horn jokes, fellas.

6. Sleepovers with a Japanese wolf film (kids, not me); sporty things (weekly sub aqua/ monthly horse backside/ random running about woods); various groups (Ramblers/ astro /woodcraft); lady training tea parties at Lula Bops. Keeps our diaries full. Shall I count them all as the S-word?

And there was the birthday.

But don't leave us in charge of the alphabet set.

7. The under-17 car club. Aunty Dee's money well spent, in my consideration. I totally love this club, and if you haven't got 12-year olds who want to learn how to drive, find some.

This is the one where kids aged 12 sit behind the wheel of your Audi to spin it round an airfield. Papa clutches at his heart and makes involuntary leg movements towards the phantom brake pedal. Well, you do have access to the handbrake from the passenger side. This is my reassurance to Dig, as he watches Shark rev up the bashed up Citroen Berlingo and send it into two dozen cones.

But there is no loss here, only gain. So far I have missed the briefings, broke the speed limit, run out of petrol, failed to see the man running behind my car waving his arms wildly, and driven around Oxfordshire with an INSTRUCTOR sign on my car when I am no such thing. And they forgave me, so really, where's the problem?

She's in charge.

8. My Knicker Drawers.

I know I am now off-piste with the educational cauldron, and this might not be counted as education for the teen grits - unless you say it is mama modelling how not to run the finances of a crafting business - but I'm including Knicker Drawers because the Knicker Drawers is all I'm doing (okay, when I'm not trolling exhibitions, chucking money at the Globe, making a nuisance of myself in the British Museum, or watching the kids drive into a central reservation made of plastic cones). It is going well, thank you.

9. The MOOCs, IGCSEs, Geography workshops, general academic sessions etc. etc. Yes, plenty. Tiger enjoyed the ceramics workshop at the Victoria and Albert Museum, we are all enjoying Latin because it is the goddam law, and I arranged a talk with the Parks Trust about drains, so give me a big tick for that.

Also on the list is fish passion, an urban development session in the first circle of Northampton town centre (kids with clipboards), a poetry session, and a battlefields walk in St Albans (again). Here, poetry.

Which must include cake, so have Poetry of Cake. Stick a disassembled poem, word-by-word into your fairy cakes, then have the kids decide on a new word order. See what beautiful phrases and evocative ideas they come up with (paper weddings / blotted rings / dawn memories), then scoff the result. Delicious, in all senses.

Look, if you are considering home ed at secondary, then hurrah! Do it. You missed all the freebie sticking and gluing sessions for the 5-year olds, but you probably didn't want them anyway; you end up with glitter and glue as a permanent culinary addition to your mashed potatoes. Enjoy now at more considered and senior level, the many co-ops, remote tutors, and general MOOCery that you can join.

10. But, with my control issues, there must be ten items in my educational cauldron. Then add Squirrel's collection of soil, which she has ironed. If there is method in it, I have failed to find it. Look on the bright side. There may yet be some future career to be developed, in general soil flattening.