Monday, 30 January 2017

Catalogue of disaster

The 6th form English resit class? It's like watching a car crash in slow motion.

1. English teacher number 1 is there for two weeks, then resigns and is not seen again.

2. Teachers number 2, 3, and 4 are cover teachers brought in for the emergency. Cover teachers are treated so badly I wonder what satisfaction can be had from the job. Some of them are not English teachers. Or secondary GCSE teachers. By now the students don't turn up much anyway.

3. After an endless stream of supply and cover staff, by October, no teacher has learned anything about Shark: not that she's not a resit candidate, not that she loves Shakespeare, not even her name. She still doesn't know how coursework is to be handled, not the texts she's to be examined on, or who to ask.

4. A teacher emerges! They are going to live in Asia, so they're only here until Christmas. But! A permanent teacher! Sort of. For two months.

5. I email the department head, suggesting (not for the first time) Shark is removed from these classes and she teaches herself at home. I ask for the exam information and use phrases such as, 'I need to secure an approach that will benefit her before it is too late'.

6. Shark is given an assignment: 'Imagine you are an elderly man reflecting on your years watching football'. I email the department head to quote the GCSE Edexcel specification for writing on 'situations or problems that are within [a student's] general experience'.

7. By December, it's not the exactly the first time I've emailed the department on this, yet I'm still pointing out that Shark is not a resit student, and I've had it up to here with assignments that don't make sense and bear no relation to a young woman's outlook on the world. I get a telephone call of a great feather-smoothing variety.

8. It's January, and a new assignment, Why is your family such a drag? As example, one of the English teachers hands out a magazine article they've pulled from an American site: Why you'd love to avoid educational excursions with your boring family, and instead stay at home to cruise your phone, but hey! It's as likely as that time you asked mommy for a Barbie Corvette.

And I suddenly understand why some parents go into schools and want to smash things up.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Give us your phone number, because that's what everyone does

How bad is that? says Dig as he reads aloud the School Online E-safety Policy.

The form, Tiger dutifully filled in. It's her application form for a set of conventional A-Levels. She has a minor malfunction at 'Date of Birth' when the form uses an American date format, so month and day are all arse-about-face.

Why the school's application form uses the American system - when we're located closer to Newport Pagnell than New York - I have no idea.

Tiger sends out another error message when she's instructed to enter all her contact details, including her phone number. So Dig goes to find the School Online E-safety Policy which reads,

'Tell children not to give out their personal details. If they want to subscribe to any services online, make up a family email address to receive the mail.'

Well, that is what we do with the email address. But we leave out the mobile phone number. When the form won't accept a blank space, we add 0!7928726252. We apologise if that's yours.

But we have no idea where these records go. Do you? If the school promises to delete your data, do they trust that to a third party? Is my daughter's mobile phone number sucked up and spat out in the USA, outside European restrictions, and sold on, and on, by companies who have no accountability to me, to you, and to any child?

But hey, maybe in 20 years time, a child's life will be run with a phone number. Then we parents will buy that teaching app, so conventional school won't even be necessary. Every child will be tracked, monitored, sold testing packages and accredited via their iphone.

But I was ever the pessimist.

Google Under Fire for Data-Mining Student Email Messages
As part of a potentially explosive lawsuit making its way through federal court, the giant online-services provider Google has acknowledged scanning the contents of millions of email messages sent and received by student users of the company’s Apps for Education tool suite for schools.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Happy Birthday, Milton Keynes!

To the ancient woodland, for a birthday walk.

 Spot the art project.

Along the roadway by the wood bank, marking the Anglo Saxon woodland boundary.

The walk leader tells us that a few swine have rights of pannage here, thanks to the Ultimate Norman Surveillance Document, aka Domesday Book.

Guardian of the Woods, Old Oak. Positioned at the junction of the path and the wood bank, serving as the eighteenth century noticeboard of ownership and access rights.

A baby elm! Part of the elm project.

Past the priory, dismantled, literally, in the Reformation. Earth work plan available.

But no-one lives in and around the fields and woods of MK without accepting development. But what  format should it take?

Friday, 20 January 2017

Wearing my Pink Pussy Hat with Pride

Because, Donald Trump, sexual assault is wrong. As is bragging about it afterwards.

A woman's body belongs to her, and it's no one else's property.

Thursday, 19 January 2017


An outing! In emergency mode, I book tickets for Passengers, ten minutes before it actually begins. This is how life is. We have an hour? Quick! Do something that sounds like an old life. Grab Squirrel and take her to sit at Cineworld.

Forget about the science! Who cares that you can hold the door open for a thermo-nuclear blast wearing not much more than a rubber-Neoprene combo and face mask? Sounds reasonable to me, especially if the girl of your dreams drowned already and magically revived, although her lungs must be filled with water, by having a cough and a splutter.

Go. It's fine. I enjoyed it. And so did Squirrel. Because there is one thing we ex-home edders like to do still, and it's live a teensy bit spontaneous.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

I'll match your iphone

I'm looking forward to my new goal of stunt protests while out walking ...

and the first one I'm pulling is a book. On encountering the phone-connected as they barely know they're heading towards me, I shall match them by pulling a book from my bag, reading the pages intently, and probably only narrowly avoiding bumping into them.

If I'm blind to everyone in the outside world while I'm in it, then I shall be comforted to be blind because of a book, and not an iphone.

Now go and have fun and join Triarchy Press Mythophilosophy.

Monday, 16 January 2017


Two hours spent in complete luxurious enjoyment in the Knicker Drawers Production Room.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Now wait 20 years

Squirrel, Shark, and Tiger spend the day digging turf to plant a vineyard. Not our vineyard. This one belongs to a man who makes pigs fly for the advertising industry.

In our relatively small garden, we have one grape vine. I planted it in 1994 at the bottom of the garden. These summers, it twines joyfully about the abandoned swing frame, sometimes producing grapes. We all look at it and go cooo! Then Dig gets in the car, drives to Waitrose, and buys a bottle of Chapel Down. (Which I can recommend as delicious.)

Saturday, 14 January 2017

And another thing schools prevent us from enjoying...

Museums, galleries, events, lectures, family stuff and, worst of all, theatre.

I see these events come round on the calender, glance at the diary, and think, pft, school.

We have this problem. Sunday to Thursday, watch the New Rule: No late nights with early mornings.

It's not my rule. I tried taking the tribe to the RSC on a Wednesday, with my lip curled and my teen face of Stuff you, we can do what we like. But watching my red-eyed Shark stagger up at 6.30am after a snatch of sleep is too cruel a blow for me to inflict.

So I look forward to the weekend! And don't count Friday evenings. Shark is off with her Sea Shanty Chums.

Then how much can we pack into Saturday and Sunday without everyone feeling miserably stressed, everyone missing something, yearning come Monday for the lost loafing time. What happened to lolling in a chair last weekend with a book?

School imposes a structure on our unstructured time. It eats into family life and stops us from taking a part in the cultural life around us. Then they have the nerve to lecture us about enrichment.

But this month we managed, at least, Two Noble Kinsmen at Stratford, Saturday matinee performance. That time comes with its own special disadvantages on a breezy, blowy summer day, so I'm grateful for the grey day and light drizzle outside. And the performance is good. I recommend it!

The casting is excellent: Palamon and Arcite are well played as two young men who are self-regarding slaves of a chivalric code to their obsession: their mutual, ultimately destructive love of Emilia. For her part, there's a hint of same-sex attraction to her maid, which makes me wonder if the time is right for a general airing and working of this play with its gender-exploring themes. Anyway, discussion to be wrangled in the car on the way home before Shark has to crack on with homework.

I can only look at the diary and hope we can squeeze in another performance in half-term.

But I'm still struggling. What can schools offer but a 9-5 mentality and a conveyor belt process?

Friday, 13 January 2017

Signs that make me see red

One problem Shark has - now she spends her days at the local sixth form - is that she can't fit in the hour for her daily walk.

From my point of view, the school stopped that daily exercise.

The school's too far to walk there and back. (She tried). I have vetoed the bicycle. (She tried that too.)

When we began, I was happy for the bike idea. But then, I felt the weight of the bag she has to carry. Day after day. Cycling with an unsteady weight on brutal roads is a risk I cannot allow. I can barely lift the damn bag: Shark can only hoist that 10-tonne pack thanks to her strong-arm training for sub-aqua air tanks, but sub-aqua exercise in the pool leads to late, late nights. Hmm. That stopped too.

Somedays Shark comes home and, desperate for a walk, she will set off in the dark pursuing invented chores that takes her briskly round town. 'We need tea-bags!' 'I'll fetch carrots!'.

So the school creates this problem, and then sets about trying to solve it.

But here's the sign which sent me walking in a furious rage-fuelled vendetta round the back of the (empty) school field.

First, they're not your kids. My kids are my kids. You don't take them as your own, because you didn't grow them in your innards. I did that, and they're mine.

Second, after you tried taking ownership of my kids, you then tell me to give you Tesco vouchers. Now you're telling me - not how you're going to exercise my kids - but how I can merely 'help you' by shopping in your prescribed places; you're telling me which schemes to support, how I should organise my time to collate, collect and give you bits of paper which you can process.

Where are my kids while this admin goes on?

Not on the school playing fields, obviously.

To drive home the point that you offer us nothing, you prevent the activities that you claim to promote, you're stopping kids getting outside in any natural, kid-spirited way; you're organising their time, their space, their limbs and their minds to create the most dreary, dead-eyed, inactive day, you then stick up a sign to prohibit one of the few activities to be had for streets around.

What is the difference between schools and prisons?

I'm counting the days until the holidays, when Shark can organise her own time, do the things she loves to do, study in her own ways, and walk outside whenever she simply wants.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Thank You Sara Holbrook!

I emerge from this article in the Huffington Post praising the Lord.

Even though I don't have a Lord. If I did, it would be a blackbird. Or a squirrel, or a hazel tree. Or summat.

But the point is, here is off-the-page truth.

Who would dispute the huge money-pot of education? It's ripe to be plucked out of everyone's pockets in guise of public taxes and placed - via some crappy mythological testing regime - into the pockets of private companies. And Sara Holbrook explains lucidly and persuasively what the edu-business does to any practitioner working in fashioning an art from life; humanity from despair; wisdom from chaos.

So go and read that article. What America gets, we get, you can see it coming, creeping up on us everyday.

Now isn't it time we had some effective, powerful and strong voices from the world of mainstream education journalism helping us out?

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

It's Just Your Thumb. What's Your Problem?

Touring the sixth forms, I am shocked, all over again. Fifteen minutes in, and I think, Crikey, your world changes quickly. Much quicker than mine, where there are constant truths, break them at your peril.

In schools, I discover there are new boundaries pushed beyond last week's boundaries, and no-one seems to pull a face, let alone say a word.


'It's just a thumb' says the deputy head, wearily, to Squirrel's question and incoherent outrage.

I stay quiet, but I think, Really? Just a thumb? Either you are utterly deluding yourself regarding the rights and privacies of children, or you don't give a toss how this society's running. Um, is that moral spinelessness or indolence? In either case, I wonder if being a deputy head, responsible for the education of 940 future citizens, should be your chosen career.

'It's just a thumb' covers access, library, food, resources, equipment, attendance.

My bet is, the school has no idea where this data goes. They collect for 'an immediate purpose', then supinely hand over your child-data to A.N.Other outside company (oh, is it Capita by any chance?).

In a double betrayal, they thus teach the nation's youth that if they want anything in life, just hand over your finger print, your you, your unique DNA, whatever's requested, say nothing, then stuff can be yours, and this is normal. Everyone does it. What's your problem? One generation and your country (aka Capita?) has the entire population mashed in a computer's jaw.

Well, Mr Just-a-thumb was pressed to admit that a student can, if they really really really protest, say No.

But he made that act - saying 'No' - feel like you'd be a 21st century Cranmer, on trial for treason and heresy. Maybe everyone who's normal reserves a special mode of alternative address for people like you, where your days will be made that bit more difficult. Until you say Yes.

So we come home and immediately poke about the law because we cannot trust the school, the government guidance, popular opinion or anything from the lips of Mr Just-a-thumb.

We find the situation is, presently, unambiguous. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. And from the Information Commissioner's Office*:

'There will be no circumstances in which a school or college can lawfully process, or continue to process, a pupil’s biometric data without having notified each parent of a child and received the necessary consent after the new duties come into effect'

'The written consent of at least one parent must be obtained before the data are taken from the child and used'

'Schools and colleges must not process the biometric data of a pupil (under 18 years of age) where:
a) the child (whether verbally or non-verbally) objects or refuses to participate in the processing of their biometric data;
b) no parent has consented in writing to the processing; or
c) a parent has objected in writing to such processing, even if another parent has given written consent.

'Schools and colleges must provide reasonable alternative means of accessing services for those pupils who will not be using an automated biometric recognition system.'

Just in case you're reading, Squirrel. xx

*Protection of Biometric Information of Children in Schools, Advice for proprietors, governing bodies, head teachers, principals and school staff, December 2012

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Was that a wobble?

Sometimes I think I have had my gutsfull of bad experiences. A child who screams I hate you is horrible enough, but a husband who says, I want to be here with you, then packs his bag and buggers off to someone somewhere better, is worse. Then there is stuff not fit for consumption in a public space.

Most of this bad life experience, probably just like you, I console myself with repetition, for at least it made me human.

But my alarm predictor is pulling off-centre again, and I feel I will be in trouble, again, this year. I think this is less intuition and more a sensing: I imagine it must be when your feet feel a distant vibration that heralds the earthquake. Just wait out the time, let it rumble, stand powerless to stop it, then watch the earth fold away while you're flipped up into the air and sent spinning into space. Then you can say, I knew that was coming. I could feel it in my bones.

Of course it could be something much more likely than an impending earthquake. I sometimes fancy I have an evil imp who sits above my head, maybe on a dense cloud, and when I move, it moves with me, a menacing cloud and resident imp, but there's no guardian angel to do battle with the imp, maybe the angel's off having a cup of tea and a lie-down, so the imp can play as it likes.

In this state of musing - What bad thing is going to happen next? - on today's walk I take photographs of happy things, so I can look back and think, okay I knew the earthquake was coming, but at least I've enjoyed the sight of an arch.

(That last photo is bird song, but you try photographing bird song.)

Monday, 9 January 2017

The January greys

I shall be glad when this weather has done with grey.

Swallowing fistfulls of sunlight in tablet form, I scurry off to soak in rays of happy light from my fake daylight bulb in the upstairs kitchen. Just thirty minutes prevents all gloom!

This is what I believe, so do not take it from me with your tales of cold logic or calculating science.

But I must have an everyday of positive thinking! Come hell or high water, damn and blast this planet. Yes it will be this creative, positive, bright and breezy, shining day, and I will fashion it from my meagre resources. Or die in the attempt.

So I try my daily walk (in the rain), cut short (the rain) to the local Tesco. (Even though I know that Tesco are false friends who will not miss me when I die.)

I decided to photograph the street debris en route. Photo number one is of three pieces of meat. Some things are beyond explanation. I wondered, on the way home, too late, whether someone had laced them with cat-killing poison.

Take my feet as an elegiac couplet in a correspondence with the weather.

But I then wondered if it could be poetry that lifted my soul? So here is my poem, post-Tesco visit, called Shopping List.

Baking Pots
 Reduced Price
Cucumber Whole
Crusty White
Bananas, Loose.

My last resort is close. Dangle fake diamonds from my ears and drink rum.

But then! I save the day! I manage to fix my eyeball onto my snake box.

(It's a work in progress.)

Sunday, 8 January 2017

I put this off till Sunday, hoping Sunday could make a difference

Hoisted aloft with rage. In fact, it has been difficult for Dig and the family to coax me down from the ceiling.

The third second after I found out, I took up my new residence there, two meters up, third arm of the faux-chandelier, building my lair of exquisite rage with snarling bare-fangs and sprouted facial hair.

Growling, in my opinion, is better than Shark - my beautiful, strong, sensitive girl who withstands all - suffering maximum distress by Mother Marching, bull-direct at school gates, swinging baseball bat to herald The Speech of The Abused, or what I bloody well think, all knuckle-fisted, bare-boned, sharp-toothed; filled with the ferocity of foul revenge screaming Where is the FUCKING ENGLISH LESSON?

What should be in your English lesson? IMHO those precious 50 minutes should acknowledge the identities of women, girls, and make a space for a clear line of words from a woman's head through her level eye and from her equal mouth.

Shark should be given that space, and if she is not, then I'm laying down the motorway to our woman souls and flattening the way ahead so she - daughter of mine - can stand upright on that surface and walk its length, and know it is right to say, this is Me, this is my-who-I-am and this voice is Mine. It is Woman Voice and you shall not take it from me.

Strangely, having written it out here in hieroglyphs, I feel slightly better, or fractionally less unhinged, and will write an email to the English teacher instead that begins, Dear Jane,

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Wherever in the world you roam

I spend my Saturday in joyful, artful, restful peace, quietly composing and stitching Wherever in the world you roam. Made with you in mind: for the person who travels far away, yet is reminded that love stays at home.

Yes! I have a stall at the magnificent Handmade and Vintage, held in the big indoor square in front of John Lewis in Central Milton Keynes, March 4-5.

The big, busty shows where you can buy anything from a repaired juke-box to a metal-twisted wand.

Save the date!

And if you'd like to fondle my leather and net,

See you at Stall 13.

Love, Knicker Drawer Note Books.

(Who, according to my customers, should be in Vogue.)


Friday, 6 January 2017

A turn round the park

I live in a community where people solve their problems with a practical immediacy, yet it's a place where the community resources are becoming more subject to control by others.

Since I deduce this state of political control on the basis of a bit of string, a public notice, and an abandoned shopping trolley, I allow that my deductions might be open to other interpretations.

I mean, I'm not exactly Sherlock. I've missed loads of the bleeding obvious, even when it's stared me in the face.

See what you think. Here is the bit of string.

Holding up the Victorian iron railings. Probably no money to mend these, or in a budget not available. But I really like this resourceful, problem-solving approach of the common man/woman, in the style of Honey, I fixed it.

As to the sawn-off stump in the park, purpose pre-stump, I can only guess. The stump was supplied by a manufacturer in Ayrshire, if you'd like to supply a clue. These days the toddler play park is over the other side of the park, so I can't see the stump showing me the ghost of an old carousel. I like the way it's just left there for you, to trip over in the dark.

Next to the park, I see BT is taking down the phone box. They gave 42 days for us to ring them up and plead for its survival, from September last year.

What I liked about this was this box's proximity to an entire line of old GPO exchange boxes, all standing in a terminal line on the other side of the wall, property of the local museum. This is the line of the dead, and the fence dividing them is no barrier at all. I wonder if anyone called to save this remnant of the public payphone era?

On the other hand, the local primary school is bounded by a set of four fences and two gates of varying  heights and steel mesh. This border is policed by Boundary Gate and Barrier Contracts. I think it definitely tells me something about the way our neighbourhoods are changing, and I don't need to be Sherlock for that.

But finally! A practical solution of a long standing variety. Bring your shopping home in a supermarket trolley then dump the trolley on top of the garage.

There's something quietly comforting about that.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Good for the soul

I am eagerly anticipating the creative payoff that will result from my daily wanderings.

This is one of my rules: you walk about briskly for an hour in your Exploratory Excursion not only as a way of making sure you put on pants and leave the house - but to rest your mind and liberate your soul. Or whatever it is, that moment that makes me think, I wonder how I can stitch in a twist of sinister darkness to the Journal of the Travelling Woman?

Aiming for a twist of sinister darkness, I took the left-hand turn because I know where the right-hand turn leads.

I admit I did not particularly did not feel comfortable walking under the bridge, with its whoo-whooo sounds echoing and bouncing between the walls like a ghost trapped between the girders. As it is also the pigeon-roost neighbourhood, I was jolly glad my coat had a hood.

And I found an aqueduct! Water sluicing down the hill, calibrating the level of the Grand Union Canal. Strangely satisfying.

Forking paths. Which would you choose?

Obviously we chose the same. And encountered the marks left from the ghost-tribes, with the hands impulsed by the neolithic, who still meet at the underpass.

Then a proper Gothic moment, by the arch, and the decision to enter the deep, dark tunnel with its who-knows-what ahead.

Seriously, there is no way as a single woman walker that I would choose this path, so I am feeling the Exploratory Excursion has come up smiling today, bringing with it such adventures into uncomfortable territory as this.


Satisfying then, to emerge back home, contemplating my stitching room and in some tiny way, changed.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The realities of choice

Dispiriting. Getting out of bed before dawn and getting Shark to school.

Shark is equally glum, and still considering her options. She's had a few sparkling days of living normally. Organising her own time, following her interests, playing with her thermistor, and asking herself, I wonder what will happen next?

Now, she says, she knows. The school will find ways to waste her time. Her time will be micro-managed, interests will be guided on someone else's terms, the day is chopped into another's organisation, and she is back in the inescapable company of the dreadful Maths teacher, the teacher who cannot communicate even a passing interest, let alone passion. Roll on 3pm.

Dispiriting indeed.

I use my brief time with her for my words of motherly wisdom. I tell her to make up her own mind and we will support her, regardless of her choice.

More usefully, perhaps, I tell her, if she is undecided, don't fret. At some point she will know. A line will be crossed - violating the way she creates her life, striking against the principles she uses to guide her choices, bringing a depth of emotional pain or a physical threat - and then the decision will be clear. This person, this place, this circumstance, it is all doing more violence to a state of being, than the rewards they bring.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Street walk

My daily walk through town.

Just as I was thinking how walking is an act of theatre - ipso facto I am walker, actress, audience and critic - I come across the remains of a previous performance.

Who uses flour bombs? Seems only right to make a stop at our local second-hand bookshop to browse the theatre shelf.

I am not sure whether grubbing through used books for half-an-hour counts as Exploratory Walk. (Subdivision: Woman in Landscape / Urban/Rural / Flameuse / Walking Lit&Lang.) Whatever, I just have to carry about in my backpack a rather lumpy C. Day-Lewis along with Women in Technology.

Then I turned left and took the back road, looking to see if I could drop down to follow the canal.

Not here, evidently. I walk as dictated by whimsy (one of the walking rules). But the signage caught my eye, regularly placed along what feels like a border fence.

Designed to tell me I'm now on private land in a 'gated community' without gates (but with signs), so clear off.

And if I was walking in anyone's company, you'd have to listen to a soapbox full of opinion about the horrors of this experience with its implied threat via these border notices that if I do anything that someone doesn't like, I'll be fined and imprisoned.

So I took a lot of photographs of the signs, half-hoping a security guard would appear and I could have a right set-to with moral righteousness and illegality both on my side, all at the same time. Bliss.

I also enjoyed a good grumble in my own head about the complicities or resistances of people involved in the privatisations of public land and the steady way that unaccountable private companies might work to control social behaviours.

As it was, no-one tuned up to turf me out the 'gated community' without gates (but with signs). Even though I stood in the road for 15 minutes, waiting.

I then walked along a public footpath next to land locked up behind green railings, owned by the old Railway Works. Or, with my local knowledge, I'm assuming the Works owns this land: there's no sign to say, so it could be owned by a giant squirrel protecting their nut stack. (Unlikely.)

But I look at the heavy green railing, determined to protect what's inside and keep me out. I see those tree branches, like the fingers of the imprisoned, poking through the bars, tentatively wondering if what is on the other side is liberty.