Thursday, 30 November 2017

And the Winner of the Competition is...

A perverse bit of me is glad that Squirrel is mis-matched to her new school surroundings. Assumptions she has previously made about the world are challenged on a daily basis, while the school is similarly struggling to comprehend her view at all.

Suggests to me we should have a pool of mis-matched students who go round institutions just to front up to them.

Today's school absurdity is the Charity Hamper Competition. Each form must create a food hamper to give to charity. I think, fair enough, spirit of solidarity, co-operation, giving to others. I would prefer a more political strike, but I understand schools don't generally see their roles as providing bricks with signposts to a banker's home address. So a charity hamper? Fine. But then the school makes a competition out of it. Thus reversing the entire meaning, because now each form must wrestle with the problems, How can we win? We need to make that form a bunch of losers. Our hamper must be best. Competition to be the best charity giver. Why not go the whole hog, and spend the income from the charity stall on medals and prizes.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Not Playing Santa

Squirrel is the single student in the (mixed age) form not to join this year's Secret Santa.

The others look at her, baffled. Why wouldn't you join in? Squirrel shrugs. 'I can't see the point of buying a present for someone I don't know anything about. And it would be obvious if I started asking someone what they like, just to buy them a present they probably don't want. If I buy a present for someone, I want it to be because they are a friend and not someone whose name came out of a bag'.

The students might be baffled, but I'm not.

Squirrel has an alternative way to see the world. One where friendships are made through shared values and mutual understandings; where giving and receiving matters because of the people involved. And not through relationships made as a consequence of being consumers, where giving and receiving is a matter of transaction through retail purchase. She makes friends, and doesn't cultivate them via a shopping mall.

Respect to the young woman.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

'Will no one think of the children?'

JeezusBejeesuz. The government - aka Soley, Deech, et al. - is coming round to 'protect the little children'. Mostly, Parent, if you are reading this, your children need protecting. From the likes of you. 
We all know us parents are notoriously abusive and never think of our children, but only our own selfish wants and needs. 
Too right, I tell the home educated yoof - Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. For years I've been avoiding getting out of bed at 7am to cart you off to prison school! 
Shark said Soley, Deech, et al. should try listening to some kids in and out of skool, instead of listening to Ofsted and the Daily Mail. She also suggested that education was supposed to cater for the individual and not just serve the interests of government. (She has obviously been radicalised.)
Squirrel, frankly, was shocked. It takes a lot to shock a laid-back Squirrel. She was shocked at how rude you are, you Lords and Ladies, when you are supposed to set an example. As a result of your insults, you're not invited. 
Tiger said, Shut up, I have some art to do and it is more interesting than Mrs Deech.

Dear Parent. You should know what is being said about you. Basically, you do not have the interests of your child in your heart; you are not fit to protect them, and the decisions about their educational upbringing should not be yours. Go and find out at least. If Tinkertop goes berserk in her local school, and you decide to take her out of it for her mental health, then make sure you know a little of the landscape.
'I have not had a great deal of involvement in education and I do not claim that much knowledge of it, but one reason why I got involved with this issue goes way back in my own past, to many years ago when I was a probation officer. I knew then that the parents of children who took them out of school seeking to abuse them knew that they could hide the child.' Lord Soley

'My Lords, this Bill is the mildest possible remedy for what has long been recognised as a risk—a situation that is not good for children or society. I have supported the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on this before and I am very happy to do so again. If I had my way, school education would be compulsory unless parents could prove that they had good reason to avoid it. Then there would be compulsory inspection and assessment of the home-schooled child’s results in national exams. I am aware that there is an almost hysterical reaction from home educators to any proposal that might be seen as protecting their children. That reaction is in itself good reason to want to keep an eye on the situation.' Baroness Deech

'Parents have rights, but children also have rights. Children have the right to a well-informed education that goes well beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. That is the first right. Their second right is that they can study in a community, however small or large, that is secure and safe, with safeguarding of their interests.'  Lord Baker

'The principle in the Bill that we need to know more about these children—who and where they are and why they are not in school—has to be right, and I very much support the aspect of the Bill that would do that. If we want to collect those figures, we must have a way of doing so. If we want to safeguard the well-being of the child, we have to know about them and talk to them. We have to know who is educating them and where they are being educated. We have to check what is happening to them.' Baroness Morris of Yardley

Second Reading
12.46 pm
Moved by Lord Soley
That the Bill be now read a second time.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

And the worst bits

The week, without the best bits? Gloom. Misery. Despondency. I no longer know who I am, where I am, nor whether I had any purpose when I started out. I lost myself.

I will pin much of this blasted life on the reshelving experience. When I became lost about the letter K. But this is only the start of The Great Endeavour! Dear reader, if you pop over here once a year, be assured that next year you'll still be hearing about it.

In practical terms, I am stripping back one of the three habitable areas of the house in a (five? three? two?)-year plan to rent it out and eke my meagre income before I die, penniless, having spent my last pound on theatre tickets and gin. I imagine I will find my tenant for the attic flat in the manner of a withered and destitute Victorian hag crawling the city streets. Surely somewhere there must be an impoverished artist in need of a garret?

The stripping, by the way, is going very slowly. So far I have emptied two bookshelves and put a Marks and Sparks coat (too small) into a sack where it will help Mrs Oxfam buy a goat.

The children are also lost in gloom. There is much to blame, but let us choose The Great Endeavour.

Basically, I am touching their stuff. This is disturbing, naturally, because you wouldn't like anyone touching your stuff. All I can say is that I am not doing it in the dark. (Although I confess I am doing it while they are not at home.) Also, in consolation, I am touching my own stuff and it's destined to mostly go to the skip. But I must remain balanced. Every cloud has a silver lining. (Not every cloud, obviously. Some only contain lead.)

I have clear shelves and can move bookcases.
The Help the Aged charity bookshop is doing very nicely.

I have reviewed all my life through hoisting these acres of books between rooms, and I have discovered that most of my life was filled with unfinished.
The books on Chaucer alone reveal my ambitions were so low as to be non-existent, and that from the very beginning I have achieved sod all.
Time moves quickly. The book I thought I would read remains where I put it, twenty years ago. I still haven't opened it, and even though I know that no-one gets a second chance after time slips out the door, I know too that I'll never read it now.

Friday, 24 November 2017

All the best bits

1. Anthony the Carpenter called. This falling-down house possesses large wood and glass doors, hand built in the late Victorian age and lovingly sited as an entrance to a room (somewhere under piles of paper and crap) that me and Dig like to bicker about. Is it called the Dining Room? Or the Boardroom? Or the Room Full of Crap? We put a ladder through the glass on one door and mended it with a plastic sheet glued to the remaining glass daggers. We have lived with this stylish solution for, um, dunno, seven years? But the time is right for a carpenter who knows what they're doing to restore our fine aspirational living. Anthony the Carpenter called and he might fit us in before Christmas. Or not.

2. En famille to Murder on the Orient Express. I thoroughly enjoyed the moustache.

3. I filled in Shark's biology form. With an actual pen. This is no small thing. Not by accident have I created a life for myself where I have had little to do with them. Forms are like discovering you put curdled milk in your tea. They put me in mind of when me and Dig tried to sell books. People would send us an order form and a cheque, which we would lose. After 6 months we would shovel the pile into the shredder without a note of guilt or embarrassment. Indeed, this capacity to have a complete lack of responsibility or interest with forms makes me the perfect person to teach the gritties how to deal with them. Rule 1. Fill them in, completely wrong and hopelessly, immediately as you receive them and bounce them back to where they came. Rule 2. Find a secretary or other friendly agent, and get them to fill in the form for you. (Pay them if necessary.)

4. I posted a Knicker Drawer Book to a young lady who will dress it up superbly and make a wonderful piece of art. Hurrah!

5. I ran a workshop for home ed kids. I forgot what simple fun it is.

6. Watched Leviathan on the iplayer. Completely recommended. Although if you like romantic comedy and narratives where the little man wins against all the odds, possibly not one for you.

7. En famille again to Glyndebourne's travelling Hamlet at Milton Keynes Theatre, plus pre-show talk. Excellent. I loved the aspirated H's before the Hell with the sliding strings against Hamlet's unbalanced head. But I feel I am the last to know about this (only has Plymouth to go) so I'm unlikely to make my next career as an opera critic.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Exterminating Angel

Saw the MET Opera screening of Thomas Adès The Exterminating Angel.

In preparation, I spent the afternoon watching the original Buñuel film on YouTube. I recommend it, if you like surreal. It is a rollicking good ramble into inertia descending into madness, and getting us wondering about our the inability to control one's own fate, or even get up and leave the room through the door. Would we smash a hole through the wall instead?

The opera, first-rate! The music was wonderfully supernatural at times, thanks to the Martenot, which brought touches of cult sci-fi spookiness to the mix.

A gentle way to fill a day, and I am both instructed and improved. The children weren't involved in this experience, on account that their life has narrowed considerably since they began A-Levels, and it's now all ticking boxes for them, and madness in the music room for us.

One positive story ...from the USA

The BBC has put up a positive story, albeit from the USA. For once, a story not riven with the suspicion that all Otherwise Educators must be up to something.

100 Women: 'Home-schooling helped me break the glass ceiling'

One line strikes me as absolutely true, given the woeful stories that Shark, Squirrel and Tiger bring home about the behaviour of some schooled peers with adults and younger kids: 'Another advantage was the social learning. Because we were with mum wherever she went we met a lot of people. From young to old, I was able to converse well with anyone.'

But I'm sure the Beeb could find a successful woman in the UK? Just think of it, with an autonomous home education background? Huh. Maybe our home-based home educators are more cautious about shouting their triumphs through the crowd. I wonder why?

And - just to disappoint potential employers, Winifred Robinson, the NSPCC, Lord Soley, and a selection of journalists who shovel out their copy from the Ministry of Truth - we are up to something, but the something is education.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Stay or Go?

In defiance, I am moving books.

Some are moving back to the charity bookshop from whence they came. (Cue weeping, gnashing of teeth, rending of cloth.)

'Giving and receiving' I say to Shark, Tiger, and Squirrel in my best sermon voice, 'are two sides of the same coin. We have received, and now we give.' I am not actually tearing The Lost Kitten from my innocent child's sweaty grip, but it pretty much feels like it.

I know, I really do, and I am sorry, honestly, truly, deeply sorry, that right now I am messing with what it is to be human. I have fingers in minds. I am messing with identity. I am messing with growing up. And I am messing with love. But my eyes are set on a clear shelf. Accessible only through someone's heart. The Lost Kitten has to go.

When I began this monumental clear out of books some weeks ago, the process was slow and tentative. There was soul searching. Nature in My Back Yard and Let's Explore Water might be cherished by someone! But now, the trickle is become a flood, and into the charity sack I am shovelling Chris Packham together with Lucy Daniels, Willard Price and multiple copies of Maya Angelou (why do we have eight copies? I think I must have stolen them in some birdcage-related madness).

Classics (including minor 19thC American) you can stay, mostly because I don't want to buy you all back again when Squirrel acquires a reading list. Thomas Mann and D.H. Lawrence? Complete Works? Debatable. Mann, I never finished one book yet. (The long night of the German soul not being high on my pleasure list.) And Lawrence? Although my teenage self loved Sons and Lovers, everything since then with Lawrence just went downhill. Squirrel has to make her own mistakes.

So I am like Caesar with my thumb as I pass along those shelves. All primary fiction (okay, except the ones I love), out. Fairy stories, stories from cultures around the world, short stories, in. Borges staying on his shrine, with candles and red velvet. Zola and Pooh Bear, in. Malcolm Bradbury, David Storey, David Lodge, one book only. David Almond, in. Acres of young adult fiction; fiction 1970-2017: by negotiation. (If you're reading this Squirrel, let us peruse the stash in civilized discussion, this time with tea and cake. And remember I also have a soft spot for tales well told of fantasy, history, and dysfunction.)

Now this is where we stand (or standoff). It is me vs every writer who sits on the shelf staring back at me. I have to regain at least 30 metres of wall, and someone's got to blink first.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Pump, sluice, scan, print

Yesterday, took Dig to Oxford for his appointment with the Big Machine.

To be scanned, Dig becomes (temporarily) radioactive and is laid on a flatbed to be scrutinised in 3D, good to every molecule. I bet, one day, they will be able to knock out a fully-functioning 3D-printed clone at the close of procedure, such is the miraculous advancement of medical science.

Afterwards (I went off hunting Oliver Cromwell Gin in Aldi), Dig told me this whole-body scan procedure was very dignified, as he had to remove only half his trousers, and the staff do offer a towel to defend his modesty.

I think there is probably nothing more dignified than a man with his trousers round his ankles clutching desperately at a thin towel while radioactive (no hugging pregnant women, small children or pet furry animals), so I shared with him with the dignity that will soon be mine, aka the cervical smear, when someone shoves a pincer up my doodah and I try and not punch the nurse in the face. Such is marriage! We can regard each other through these most intimate of moments!

Anyway, this scan was the second attempt. The first attempt (Monday) was cancelled due to the radioactive juice not meeting quality standards. And today (Thursday) Dig is having some drainage pumping system installed. Also (this week) was a scrutiny of the throat; a minor pokeabout which now feels so routine a procedure I don't know why we can't all have it while standing in queues for taxis or buses or entrances to museums.

I know I said (last week) that it's not all hospitals, but this week, it is.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


On reading the words Lockdown Procedures with Squirrel's name, my first thought is What has she done?

Dig explains it to me. How in these days of perilous living - where going to school is made to sound like the normal equivalent of an afternoon's stroll through Raqqa - all students must know how to survive. They must throw themselves under desks to avoid chemical spillages; pretend no-one's in the classroom to avoid the proximities of dangerous dogs; communicate without telephone in case of serious weather, and learn how to spot a nutcase who doesn't know the lockdown procedure.

Dear xxxx, xxxx has sent you a message :


Dear Parents/Carers

Lock Down Procedures
[ ] On very rare occasions it may be necessary to seal off the school buildings to ensure that students, staff and visitors are safe in situations where there is a serious security risk in relation to the school premises.

A lockdown is implemented when there is serious security risks of the premises due to, for example, near-by chemical spillage, proximity of dangerous dogs, serious weather conditions or attempted access by unauthorised persons intent on causing harm/damage and/or a student/member of staff/visitor who may have the potential to pose a risk to staff and students in the school.

The procedures are not intended to alarm anyone, students, families or staff members but just as we have to have a fire evacuation procedure, so too we need a lock down procedure.
[ ]

All students will be reminded about the procedures in tutor time over the next week, and this will be the first time they have heard of lock down and the school seeks your support to reassure your sons/daughters of the purpose and importance of the procedures. We understand that in the event of a real lock down it is likely to be upsetting and stressful for everyone. We ask that you consider the following in relation to your role in the situation:

If necessary parents/carers will be notified as soon as it is practical to do so via the school's communication methods – school comms text/email and/or website.

Depending on the type and severity of the incident, parents/carers may be asked NOT to collect their students from school as it may put them and their child at risk.

Students will not be released to parents/carers during a lock down.

Parents/carers are asked not to call school as this may tie up emergency lines and students will be instructed not to use their mobile phones during lock down.

[ ]

As with the fire evacuation procedures, we will be practising the lockdown procedures with students over the next couple of weeks. The lock down warning bell will be a continuous ring for five seconds with a brief intermittent pause before continuing for five seconds etc.; it is not the fire bell and only staff will be able to sound the lock down warning bell.

[ ]

That'll be something to look forward to, I tell Squirrel. Increased general anxiety about unpredictable and invisible threats, with the prospect of facing your own powerlessness in the face of imminent death! Let's not think about perspectives, probabilities, or bring any critical awareness to any day whatsoever.

Next week, we can enjoy the mental health awareness lesson.

Now make sure you're home in time for tea.

Sunday, 12 November 2017


Over from Studland, to where the Devil sleeps, disguised as a rock. Or a pillar of chalk made from the drowned. Either way, a breezy, beautiful walk following the night drive around Bovington military tank range. A touch of the old days, at Old Harry.

Friday, 10 November 2017

On this journey

It is not all hospitals. Today the car went in and out the garage, double-quick, to prep for the weekend road trip, and I'm keeping a gratitude diary. Shut up Planet Sensible. I am in the hippy mumbo jumbo general crapiness of the new therapy age. I have to try something and it's the most positive thing I can think of. Anyway, I'm noting what is good without the God but with the um, just positive. Today, Dig's MRI scan. Also, I have begun 3am fretting about things like uncontrolled ivy and bookshelves and commissions and needing to find a way through that is both kind to the people who are looking to me, and also gentle on those people who will start asking. And a daily pause for reflection helps impose an order where, under the stretched surface, it feels like there's no order at all.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Clearly having no positive impact

Squirrel is scathing about her experience of the school's sessions on 'confidence building'.

When she tells us about her lesson on 'How to Keep a Positive Mindset' she looks as if she would positively like to hear glass smash.

Then she gets onto the subject of the video. 'Some white male footballers' she begins, 'a few musicians, and Einstein. Out of the dozen examples of people demonstrating a positive mindset there was a woman who went on to be a TV presenter, and the sum total of her negative experience was that once she got a comment that wasn't very nice at school.'

Squirrel tells us how she commented (loudly I hope) that in all the examples of successful character building in 'How to Keep a Positive Mindset', only a handful of examples were women - rather then the 50% she was counting on - and she would have thought that 'out of hundreds of years of women trying to change society where you needed a positive mindset everyday, there'd be more than a few pop stars and a TV presenter.'

Finally, her parting comment was this: 'My life since age 13 has been to carefully correct negative views of home education and why I am in it. I've sometimes gone on a walk to have someone assume I'm illiterate, been expelled, been excluded, been suspended, have behaviour issues, or something is wrong with me. When I was walking across that field with the woman who'd been talking to me for half and hour and she finds out I don't go to school, all she can say is 'Well you look normal'. I think I could tell anybody 'How to Keep a Positive Mindset' and I wouldn't need a video.'

Then she went upstairs to get on writing her novel.*

*She won't tell me, so I'll just assume it's a novel.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Thrill of the Frill

Making the Knicker Drawer Note Books for you lovely people out there has been one of the most satisfying strands of my life. Not least that I know, when people arrive at my stall, that I'm not the only woman in town who thrills to the frills. All that leather, paper, net and thread combining in charming and bonkers ways, depending on how the mood takes me and the starting points you give me.

I feel, most of the time, that I am a miserable glum bastard with a heart of lead and a dead soul, but the stories you tell me send me eager to my stitchery witching. Thank you to all you amazing people who, in this early November weekend, told me your stories of who you are, and how you're going to note, draw, doodle, stitch, pin, glue, tear, bend, stain, and happily trash your note book. If you have one for the sea, take it to the shore and get it wet. If you have one for the woods, scatter it with earth and bind it with leaves. And if you have one for your soul, then fill it with the breathings of your heart.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

I hope you never thought life was easier on the outside

I am on the outside, it is true.

For most of my time I have found lovely, inspiring people out here! Yes, some are bonkers. (I keep the real wackos close to my heart for later.) But bonkers, certainly. Religious inspired, some. Philosophical anti-authority types, plenty.

We have a touch of the Romantic wild child spirit permeating this family, also true, so I've made sure my tribe know Blake was a key part of that movement and as mad as a bag of badgers. But he had a few things to say that we should discuss! (As in, when he talked about 'free love', was he advocating that only for miserable men?)

Anyway, we are out here, living in contested terrain. We are fragmented. Home educating for different reasons. As different as you can imagine. In truth, a list of types doesn't do us any justice - apart from give a brief respite, allowing the beseiged author to find another coping strategy to deal with the rest of the badgers in the same sack.

But the problem with fragmented citizens is that we are not easily herded. To be picked off by any large organisation with an agenda, those large organisations need to find a common hook. A single rallying point we disparate crew all might agree upon. Freedom! Money! The right to bear arms! (Although, as Squirrel points out, you cannot take a bear's arms without there being trouble.)

Edu-business is one global operation that needs home educators to cohere around a single point. Aided by government, they force one idea of education. To get a good education, you must buy it! (And you can read a lorry-load of stuff in this blog about those attempts.)

But here's another organisation who often comes to herd us all, rallying around that flag of freedom. The Homeschool Legal Defence Association (HSLDA).*

HSLDA? Thanks, but No Thanks.

That is the polite Grit form. Others might use more vulgar language, like Fuck off, nutjobs.

Remember, themes come in pairs. Freedom to be unpredictable brings confinement and regulation. The HSLDA, by its very presence, will help herd us on that path to registered home education.

Once we're all rebranded as home-schooling, then it's easy: in will step the twin globs of Capita and Pearson to solve the problem of how to secure your 'good education'.

Please, can we all stay diverse, oppositional, fragmented, and frankly badger-like, clawing each other's faces off in our own home-made sack of shit?

And for those of you on the inside of the society - maybe unaware of what a mine-field it is out here - HSLDA is an American organisation that is known ... hang on, here's the Wikipedia entry, which does just as well.

'...criticized, from both inside and outside the larger homeschooling movement, for its ties to the Christian Right and its advocacy for various conservative political and religious causes, some of which are unrelated to homeschooling. For example, HSLDA opposes same-sex marriage, claiming that it represents "an attack on parental rights." '

And that's just the start. Nutjobs.

*Edited, for discretion. (This post really should be titled the People's Front of Judea)

Monday, 6 November 2017

Navigating culture clash

I have told this to Squirrel. If you dump school, then please, for now, keep a written record. It will be treasure, your insights and observations about the way the world turns.

And I agree. Squirrel, you're like a feral child wandered into civilisation from the jungle. Finding that the jungle, with all its packs and tribes, now seems a lot more straightforward, sensible, ethically defensible, practical and sane than the four school walls you find yourself bounded by.

But it means that I cannot record all Squirrel's experiences - this blog would turn quickly into The Squirrel Show - mainly because those moments are hers and she owns them, but goodness, I wish I could. In her end-of-day round-ups she makes me laugh. She has an astute eye that pierces the weirdness of the place.

Last week she comes home bewildered (again), having received a letter to congratulate her on achieving 100% attendance. 'Why are they telling me this' she asks. 'I was there! Do they think I can forget where I am?' Today, some self-assessment form, which she drops to the table in contempt and says, 'This is pointless. They want me to write down just what they said to me. And that's not self-assessment.'

But one good thing is come of it at least: I know our home ed life created strong bonds. Days like today, with their endless and remote classrooms filled with pointless demands, these days send us all back home together, fleeing for evening comfort where we can eat as a family, jostle for space in the kitchen, complain about who sits where, then companionably watch television together of so-very-bad sitcoms. For so brief a time, all is as it should be, before our world is cracked open again by that insistent demand of an early alarm clock, and the beginning of another school day.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Grim, grim, grim

Huh, that's what we thought for some years, no?

Home 'schoolers' are an emerging terrorist threat. (Knees jerking) we might be crazy radicalists creating mini jihadists out of sight where no-one can tell. (Netpol release of Prevent-linked document and don't ask me to find that blasted thing again.)

Pah. We have done that already to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. I can warn you. They are not like normal kids. None of them have iphones (can't be tracked); none of them are on facebook (can't be tracked); none of them spend hours 'chatting' on social media forums (I think one of them put up a theatre review somewhere); and all of them are quite happy to read old-fashioned books while lolling on sofas (out of sight in their private spaces, so can't be tracked). What's more, they are pretty much independent thinkers, and have their own views on how things work. Basically, try ruling over them.

It all fits, of course it does, with the Soley Bill and the public outrage whipped up in advance, thanks to stuff like Winifred Robinson's 'in-depth' research.

And what the hell is a Consumer Watch presenter doing with an education brief anyway? (Duh, I forgot there ... we now have a retail educational business, with a 'sticker price' on each degree, so um, yeah, Consumer Watch fits right in with Edu-Business.)

Bah, it's hell-in-handcart time.

Better things to do... like read Imperium by Robert Harris. I'm thoroughly enjoying this (although the prospect of standing three hours at the back top gallery of the RSC production of the same - only ticket I could get - not so enjoyable a thought.)

And relistening to Emily Portman's The Glamoury. I think I am in love with her, not in a creepy way, just in the wonderful inspirational way she conjures with bones and feathers which makes me want to stitch books just like that.