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