Monday, 30 October 2017

Also, I heard that story about the wolf and the pigs

Live in a shed in the woods.

That is Shark's opt-out solution to our latest news of pain, which is Amazon opening the front door of a person's home to leave parcels inside.

I can't see anything wrong with Amazon's plan at all!

(Your screen should be melting now from the undiluted sarcasm I just injected direct into its little backlight veins.)

People in my world are ultra-ultra cautious about letting anyone into the home. It could be because, in happy home ed land, the house looks like a skip (that someone tried to set on fire as an afterthought when they left the teatowel under the grill) but basically, yes, skip is a fair word for a non-tidy-up effort on a routine family day.

But the other big reason we auto-types have for not letting in, let's say, the people who represent the state, and most particularly that of their 'education department', is that the home ed householder may have no guarantee (or basic trust) that the state official will arrive without holding a clipboard of tick-box state requirements. And home ed houses, especially of the autonomous variety, do not generally look, or run, like school rooms. We do not have a white board. We do, however, have a robot made of old junk called Grapple.

Not letting people into the home (unless they're invited, we had a tidy up, and we are actually at home, as in standing in the kitchen with a cup of tea/glass of wine to greet you), well this is so fundamental a law to my life that Edward Coke is cited round here. You can find out about him here.

My money's on the following scenario. We all place the trust of our door-opening system into sanctified Amazonian hands. But then! A miscreant delivery driver is revealed in a compromising situation (I dunno, maybe with six napkin rings and half a grapefruit), at which point legislation must be drawn up with immediate effect! Legislation will be necessarily enforced by the state who award themselves permission to pursue the corporate agent into the home: in all good PR they become the regulator of evil corporate expansion and the saviour of our citizen souls at the same time. A way ahead that can't fail. Except for the fact that I lose all round. My kitchen, front room and lady bathroom just became the new contested area between global corporation and (inter)national government, and Coke, lying dead with a stake through his heart, is trampled at the threshold.

Needless to say, they're not having my front door key, the bastards.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Journey of empowerment


I am hunting around for the gratitudinous. I have come up with this blowsy breezy walk, or memory of this walk, atop and over Ashridge, led by a lovely, lovely geology scholar, okay she was on crutches, but that just shows how dedicated she is, and although it was a few weeks ago, now seems like an age, I am very grateful for that day, oh yes I am.

It puts me much in mind of that ambition I have, which is to become a tramp. I have always wanted to be a tramp, ever since I read about Mr Polly in my teenage years, and while I accept it seems an odd coming-of-age story, the story struck a chord because the chord was already there. I had seen tramps in London on a day trip aged about 5 and I thought they were wonderful. Who cared if they were a bunch of decrepit drunks? To me it seemed like a wonderfully pioneering way to live, with all your treasured belongings strapped about your middle, and anyway, I shall be a different type of tramp; I shall take a month to tramp about, and I'll do that in an empowering woman-way in the nature of a flaneuse about a dérive, the claiming of the route ahead, and I won't pioneer this in the urban environment, not bloody likely, but through a strung-out selection of English market towns, hopefully with some charming inns and hostelries like the Potwell Inn, which have a soft bed and a proper breakfast, and then I'll be out again in the bright and beautiful morning to tramp the countryside and photograph stuff. Fields, probably. And that's what I'll do, that's how I'll live, oh yes I will.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Outside, not wanting to come in

I am outside again. And not with the shrubs, trees, or tweety things. Outside this society. Melancholic and in search of upmarket literary expression, I shall go and find Camus' L'Étranger. (Not in the original French, obviously.)

It won't make me feel any better. I will simply be made more absurd, more alienated, and even more outside, just looking for the bastard book.

This is on account of the stupid idea someone had in 1990. The stupid idea called, Let's knock out the ceiling and put bookshelves in a roof recess. Guaranteed to look amazing! It has only guaranteed that any book not looked at since 1990 has gone twelve foot up. And Camus will be there. To locate him, I need only to take a pair of military night-sight field glasses, scale a ladder, and scan the horizon as if fearful that L'Étranger will become Le Sniper.1 This would be typical. It will be the icing on my cak du jour. Old books firing bullet-words at me.

Anyway, Camus twelve foot up is not the point.

I am an outsider. Again. I do not understand this society. I feel a frustrating concoction of incoherent rage plus raging indifference. The upshot is, I am shrugging my shoulders and tutting.2

Here is the thing which starts it. It is a thing I do not understand. I am alienated from it. I click through a discussion that promises (Women and Power) and I discover this really means Should I have botox or not, especially when my husband says I shouldn't?

As the discussion gently doesn't drift from this subject but continues with enthusiastic answers around yes/no, there is a lone voice (not mine) gamely shouting No! This is a Pointless Discussion! You should not conform to socially-created images of yourself!

Everyone ignores Lone Voice Woman. She gives up, and the debate fizzles out with the consensus, It's your money and you can do what the hell you like, why not dump him? Divorce seems a bit of an over-reaction to me, but there you go, the modern woman's freedom to choose, huh?

But Lone Voice Woman is right. It is mad to botox anyone's face. Or any bit of anyone. Especially in the search of cosmetic perfection. A face is an authentic version of a person. And what is wrong with authenticity?

But I know I am out of this society.

Botox is the equivalency of some extraplanetary orbit of my world. The furthest my skin travels is with Vaseline and Coconut oil.3 Hair has gone the same way. I gave up with the bottle of brown hair fluid some years ago, and have grown fantastically grey. But I am in love with it! Why should men get words like flint, gunmetal and steel, and it's all good, like wisdom, distinguished, handsome, and all women get is old, faded glory, ashen and dull. I am become my own ambassador for wise grey.

Pft. I resolve to stay an outsider. Ambassador for the outside, or alienated from the inside. Either state will do. Don't care. Off to drink tea and eat biscuits. Wisely.

1 Watch Woman Power in action in the fantastic short film Le Sniper
2 I am British.
3 Not only cheap, but doesn't contain plumping or filler materials. I am creased, and I like it.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Feral plays with Fire

We're in the grip of a national shocker. Did you know? We are outraged.

I hear how some parents are feckless. They pull their children out of school! WHO KNEW? Have you seen these so-called 'home schooled kids'? They play with KNIVES. They run WILD. PANIC is hitting the streets, and this is because some kids are NOT AT SCHOOL. These kids have gone beyond bringing down house prices. Now they are undermining your banking system, and infiltrating capitalism. See that 8-year old? He is a fifth columnist.

I hold up my hand. I confess my crimes. I am guilty. I gave my kids knives one year for Christmas in the manner of Captain Fantastic distributing weaponry. In my defence, I thought all kids needed to carry blades. How else can they whittle wood?

But this is half-term week. All popular culture must tell the same. Like, any normal parent is at their wit's end. Stressed out, we yearn for back-to-school. All kids are bored at home. Life is miserable. School is a joy.

Er... this week's crop of media horror stories couldn't be background work for the Soley Bill, could they?

For this Bill to have any traction, the demos should be properly foaming at the mouth. (Cue anti-home ed articles, enter, stage left.) See Horror Parents in Action! See Toddlers Play with KNIVES!

Having created froth in the suburbs, along comes a solution! Lord Soley, Saviour of the Little'uns, has a registration and monitoring system to Save the Nation!

Except the Soley Bill is uncommonly poor from back-to-front. It follows no philosophy of education that I can recognise.

In fact, let's take that further. The bill is not interested in education. It is interested in getting at any child to 'monitor' their 'educational, physical and emotional development'.

What does that mean then?

Educational? Um... can your child read by the prescribed age 5? (WE would have FAILED. Ours were aged 8 before they were arsed to read I am a Dolphin).

Does your child attain the prescribed physical development? (Eh? Does someone want to take photos of my child without their top? Can't see any problem there.)

Is your child reaching the state approved emotional development milestone? Look here Soley, if you had wanted Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to show you some Real Girl Emotion with a hammer, shovel, and bicycle helmet, we could have been your family of choice.

One problem with the Soley Solution: it uses words - educational, physical and emotional - as if we have consensus about their meaning, when there clearly is none at all. We can debate for bleeding hours about those words. I'm having William Blake and Fatboy Aristotle on my side.

The upshot here is that this week, the media is doing the government's work, prepping the masses.

You school-choosers will be duly rewarded with pics of knives, hammers, etc; kids not going to bed at midnight; kids not eating a meal at a table; kids running about fields and howling, like kids do when they're being, um, and doing that thing wot kids do: growing up.

Which is sort of the point of home ed. The free-range, autonomous, unschooling wing gives your rugrats a chance to grow up on their terms, in their ways. How is keeping them on a register and monitoring them going to help anyone?

But what does the Soley solution really offer? Another nail in the coffin to parental choice; the replacement of a family's interests with that of the state (and we all know how successful the state can be, looking after the interests of children); another expenditure for your local authority to meet (when they have so much money to play with); and a nice, fat, juicy contract for Capita.

Here, have a photo of an autonomous-educated child wielding a hammer. Fire included.

Tiger, never bin to skool, on a traditional crafts blacksmithing course. (Takes Latin A-Level in her time off.)

Huh. Feral kid, gone wild.

 Sensible comments over here, under article from trade magazine from July.

Monday, 16 October 2017

The Party

Go and see The Party. It is smart, funny, filled with withering truths, filmed with great confident style, and the performances are first class. The character of April is welcome here anytime. I have plans to paint the kitchen door in honour. (I might explain that later.)

Yes, I'm thoroughly enjoying this month's screening choices. Some months, it all seems bleughbleugh Transformers and Boy Hero Stories, but what a delightful pick this month. Death of Stalin and Bladerunner. Fantastic. (And Cineworld aren't paying me to say so.)

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Young Woman Power

We are in the moment of woman voice. The right time then to offer a little warning about the way three young women from round these parts will lead this planet.

I do not often report on my three Big Grits: they are old enough to report on me. I think it would be well if no one knew what I got up to. Thus, information here is slight but in the interests of gender representation, essential.

Shark. Presently into marine ecology, physics and engines. Now at a Royal Navy site in England stripping down engines and outboard motors, then working out how to put them back together, preferably so that there are no screws left on the floor, and the thing goes brrrrrr (or whatever engines do on starting). However, she notes in a telephone call home that she is given more help than she would like from the instructor. My message to him is, Back off with the help. Do not assume that girls need more help with engines than boys. She can use a spanner and she knows a piston from a crank shaft. Things can turn ugly, quickly.

Tiger. After a long dark night struggling with the soul, she has returned to Latin A-Level; hopefully she will also find an afternoon or two to laze with Ancient Greek, enjoy the company of Anglo Saxon and renew a happy flirtation with Old Norse. Highly capable, yet cripplingly lacking self-confidence. Her artwork is lovely, her capability for delicate animal illustration puts her on a course for childrens' books, and she's an all-round good egg. Just painfully over-sensitive about everything. Just drop the need for perfection, Tiger. Have a few failures, and remember that the best mistakes in life are usually the most fun, so you have permission to make them time and time again. We will still provide a hearty pasta dinner and, if necessary, fund the lawyers.

Squirrel. Who knows what Squirrel really does? I don't. She is now routinely made upset with Thing Called School. Thing Called School stops her from doing what she wants to do, which is read books, write her own stuff, and stare out the window. I hope she is writing a cracking piece of young adult fiction, and I bet it's not going to have any female characters blabbing about fashion, nail varnish, or boys. I hope she has spirited girl protagonists who argue about society, engage in direct action, and know how engines work, not so they can impress a boy, but to power a machine to their will. Maybe she is writing a story where Thing Called School no longer exists, but the Stasi-equivalence are tracking the young escapees. Tiger effects a narrow escape from these jaws of death by solving an Old Norse puzzle then the girl power tribe jumps on a speedboat fixed formerly by a feisty Shark, and together, the three heroines save the planet.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Sexual assault

I haven't yet met a woman who hasn't got a story to tell. Depressingly, several stories, spun out like knots and threads, twisting and splicing between the years.

It's true, for decades - centuries I'd guess - women have spent hours, listening to each other, telling the same stories. Powerlessness, shock, living the consequences of a decision you never made; decisions you were never even asked to take a part in, never considered.

Perhaps women have talked and listened to other women, more often than to men on the consequences of this imbalance. But women haven't always stayed quiet to men. Not always. Perhaps men too have felt there's nothing to be done. This is how things are. This is the way the world works. It's inevitable. Except of course, that nothing is inevitable.

For the moment - briefly? - it seems okay to publicly tell this personal narrative. Is this the time, perhaps, we can assume the woman's story is not only true, it has a right to be heard without blame or condemnation? For the moment, perhaps, there is sanctuary and sanctity about the individual telling. What comes next, after a thousand flowers have bloomed, makes me cautious.

Perhaps a positive message is my preference to teach my daughters. You are equal to a man. You are equal in law. Your voice carries equal weight. I assume these things are true because I want them to be true. We should act how we want to the world to be. I can teach my daughters guarded and watchful behaviour, but I cannot assume that all men are predators, or that all men are guilty on account of their biology. Of course not. Perspective and balance matter. On our most basic levels we're all humanly capable of blundering stupidities, dreadful errors, shaming misjudgements. We each, men and women, need the same extended to us: patience, kindness, forgiveness. My daughters will probably want that too.

But it is also true that we're still holding the derelict end of a legal, administrative world; a world of power, decision, influencing; a social construct, made primarily by men who have stacked that system towards their wants. Perhaps this is a fulcrum-time that I can hope - and I do not often hope, believe me - that a different culture now can become possible. That men will, alongside women, help stop that blind eye, turning.

Friday, 13 October 2017

The Ritual (The film, not OCD complaint)

Went to see The Ritual. What's a matter with 46% of you? I loved the end. Affirmative, right? Despite the eviscerations.

I'd give the film a higher score than Audience Average on Rotten Tomatoes. 70% seems fair, which puts me on the side of the Tomatoes critics.

The film has a now-standard ensemble character set, but they each become part of a greater conceit, don't they? As in, the woods are a place of creepy unknowns, so they must be also a place where your character is formed (or not), in how you relate to all the crap stuff thrown up by living. Such as grief and fear. But mostly, that dread of all, shame: that horrible, bleak and brutal consequence of a confrontation with the self.

Then the characters fit easily into that conceit. Each of them shows a different response to the terror of the woods, or the confrontation with self, or the tussle with the psyche or the soul, or the what-you-will. Yes, each character gives a typical generic human-type response, but hey, it's a film lasting 90 mins and has a myth-human monster frolicking about, so back off the complaining.

Facing grief, loss, dread, fear, shame, what do we human-types do? Submit to it, make it your master and go on and on about it (Phil). Ignore it, pretend it doesn't happen (Hutch). Blame everyone else (Dom).

Or (and get the name Luke - My English teacher was right - know the Bible as a route to literature) you can face the full demonic horror with a stomach-churning scrutiny, know how shit and shame changes us, and get on with roaring back. We're all on a route. We're all fearful, facing loss, and shamed. We only deserve to be eviscerated in a wood if we refuse to let ourselves find a way to heal.

So what's wrong with a story like that?

Also, I thought the monster was terrific. Very Nordic.

Monday, 9 October 2017

That annual problem

Autumn. It should be a thrill ride. I want to suck back lungfulls of sharp air, throw leaves to the trees, stare unblinking at colour, and press back on all of it as much as it oppresses me. I know what comes next. This is the final jolt of the wild run before the dark.

I dread the dark. I have screwed in my courage to three, hefty, day-light, light-saving, haveyourdayhoursallthehoursyouwant bulbs. They burst out fake daylight in my top-room workshop, so in the deepest of the coming winter darkness I can take my spirit up there and fill it full of false sun, until Spring.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Is this the thoughtless response you wanted, Winifred?

'Out of School, Out of Sight?

Children not in school, eh? That's wrong, that is. Nobody sees these kids. No-one knows what they're learning. They're invisible. They could be doing anything.

Muslims! They're twisting our laws. You can't tell what they're up to behind closed doors! They look normal, but they're up to no good. 

Now he sounds alright. He's joining in, but that family who took their kids to Syria? An everyday British woman? She took her kids out of school and that's because she wanted to turn them into jihadists. 

Teaching kids at home is wrong. Those parents, of course they'll keep it hidden. Yup, out of school, out of sight. 

And it's legal? Disgusting. All you have to do is write a letter! That's it? Shouldn't be allowed. Obviously, if you want to hide your kids, then school is a problem, because kids are seen at school and they talk to each other. Out of school, they're not going to get that social contact, are they?

Councils! They don't know what's going on. Voluntary register? Is that it? Well those who want to duck the system will do just that! Councils can't catch 'em. 

Parents. Shouldn't be allowed. You can't just let parents do what they want. The law needs tightening up. Ideological? What's that then? Parents who think the council will take the kids away? Nuts. 

No monitoring of standards? That's wrong. Kids should reach a basic standard, and parents won't be doing that if they're not inspected. 

Those Bradford people. They've been inspected. They've set up a proper school. Desks, trolley, stuff. Then why don't they just send the kids to school? And how do I know they're not just teaching them religious stuff?

What's she say? You take your kids out because you don't want your little darlings to have a difficult time? You're not teaching them how to grow up in the real world. In the real world they have a face a few knocks. Now we're mollycoddling kids. They should go to school and learn how to toughen up.

Yeah, what about qualifications? Kids get a load of stuff in school. The kids don't get that if they're taken out of school. Kids'll miss out. And the parents don't even know how to teach!

Listen, she doesn't know what she's doing. She can't do GCSEs or A-Levels. What? Some people don't even believe in exams? Blimey, all this home schooling stuff is right off.

Eh? Home education? Home school? That's the same thing.

Schools are flippin' well encouraging it, and the parents are taking it up because they want to avoid the fine. Parents don't even speak English! They can't teach! No-one checks!

Homeschooling gone wrong. Too right. Parents don't do anything and the kids doss about. Look, the parents work. They're totally out of their depth. She just said it. They're trying to get out the system, that's all.

And the kids hate it. They're depressed. They don't have any friends. No-one cares about them. Their parents have let them down. They've destroyed their lives. Kids need proper teachers. They like school. They're happy at school. Home is boring for kids, everyone knows that! Hear that? That lad could have had a good education at school.

Home schoolers? They want to beat up their kids. They're neglecting them. Scurvy! Good God, they're backward, these weirdos.

Absolutely. It needs a change in the law. We need to know where these kids are, what they're up to, what goes on behind closed doors. There should be a compulsory register, a way of finding out. They should be inspected. Councils can't do anything. 

Thank God for that Labour Bloke. He's alright. He knows what he's doing. He's seen parents abuse kids, and how they hide kids, and hear that? Parents. They want to kill kids.

Home educator? Unregistered? What for? All the Council is doing is trying to help. And what's she doing in a field? Learning? They're not learning anything in a field. They're just playing. Book club? That doesn't sound very likely. Oh, right, she's breastfeeding. How long! She's probably still doing that till the kids are really old. What she say? Thirteen years! She just doesn't want her kids to grow up. Selfish.

Oh my God, they're hippies. They're trying to drop out. What age do they think they're living in?

Listen to that kid. He had no education from the age of 11? Thank God he got out of that. No exams? God, he says he's ignorant about everything. See? Parents who take their kids out of school should be put under the microscope. You need to get in there, look at what they're up to. 

In fact, nah, they should be stopped. Destroying their own kids. Fucking home schoolers. Hate 'em.'

Out of School, Out of Sight, programme presented on BBC Radio 4 by Winifred Robinson, 4/10/17.

The only hope we have, is people who think.

Monday, 2 October 2017

The brightest stars

I need to tell you about Squirrel. Someone attempted violence on her today. It was alright, she was unharmed. She was temporarily bewildered and aggravated, but now is back to normal somewhere in the solar system.

Their attempts at coercion won't work, of course they won't, because they should know that Squirrel lives in a different dimension from the rest of us. She is exempt from anyone's bargaining: she lives somewhere else, where she lives her effortlessly normal life, ignoring anything you try and do to haul her back down here to your annoying dimension.

But the connectors to our different Squirrel-Grit space-times turned briefly in sync (about 3.20pm), when Squirrel related the entire and strange incident which I report (nearly) faithfully, here.

At earthling lunchtime Squirrel was invited to sit down for a ten-minute 'chat' with her form tutor. This was so she could be 'appraised'. Only the tutor didn't call it that; the tutor said, 'Squirrel, let us have your appraisal'. Which is where it all started to go wrong.

Squirrel immediately appraised the school, offering the observation that she had thought better of their timetable, and she wasn't going to attend lessons allocated to her; she was going to different, more interesting lessons of her own making.

The form teacher then apparently changed tack, and attempted to prompt Squirrel into offering a few weaknesses she might possess that the school could help manage, and improve.

Squirrel observed this initial attempt to do violence to her identity, and told the form tutor that she hadn't any weaknesses that needed managing, or improving, thank you very much. Where she lived it was all fine: she was fine. The only weakness she could identify right now was the school administration procedure called 'appraisal'.

The tutor refused to write down Squirrel's appraisal and went for something else, suggesting that Squirrel might have a trait, as the form teacher said, 'you do not concentrate on things that do not interest you'. Squirrel immediately agreed. Temporarily triumphant, the form teacher wrote this down.

To which Squirrel exclaimed, You have written it in the wrong place! I have told you a Strength! Who wants to concentrate on things that do not interest them? WHAT IS THE POINT OF PAYING ATTENTION TO THINGS THAT ARE POINTLESS?

I could have told them, had they asked. This thing called appraisal, which is subjection and domination; describing to make regretful shortcomings and sorrowful subserviance. It is futile. You can try and do violence to Squirrel's mindset; to rearrange her identity; or attempt to present her character back to herself as one who, without autonomy, requires management and re-education - but you will fail.

Squirrel is not of your composition. She is a unique creation. She has her own dynamic force, possibly drawing on the strength of stardust.

Anyway, the upshot is, Squirrel remains unappraisable; the 10 minutes lasted 35, and we parent-units are due to see the form teacher on Wednesday.

I might do a little strewing for Squirrel to pick up on her fly-by: Managerialism: A Critique of an Ideology T. Klikauer