Sunday, August 27, 2006

So much for a slobbing weekend!

Leo and I called some cousins today to see if they fancied a trip to the beach this afternoon. They already had plans and invited us to join them on a lovely walk. We went by train and bus to Birling Gap and walked to Cuckmere Haven over the Seven Sisters. Sadly we had no camera but I hope those links will give you a rough idea of the place, if you do not know it.

The total walk was probably around five miles and included the steep climbs up each hill but all the kids (Leo, 6 and cousins S(8) and D(4))did brilliantly. The views are breathtaking and the wind and sun today made it perfect. Being up on the clifftops can be a bit scary with excited little kids running around and my brother (a health and safety officer!) was anxious to keep everyone far back from the edge. It is worth being careful as the cliffs are eroding very fast. I wondered today if the rabbits (whose burrows cover the area) ever fall over??

The visitor centre at Cuckmere Haven had some good displays of skulls and shells and other such stuff, which Leo enjoyed greatly. We had a cup of tea and a scone and then waited a long time for a bus we could actually get on - the weather meant that everyone had decided on that walk today!

Meme of three

Got tagged by Deb. Bit crap at these things but here you go

1. Things that scare me:
Moths – sad but true, especially ones with fat bodies!
The self-destructive nature of human kind
The thought of either of the children, or Dani, dying

2. People who make me laugh
Catherine Tate
Victoria Wood
Joyce Grenfell
(And so many more!)

3. Things I hate the most
The way power and wealth distort human relations
Religious fundamentalism
People making assumptions about others (bit broad there I'm afraid – covers a multitude of sins!)

4. Things I don't understand
How cars have become a supposed necessity for so many people in the space of a couple of generations
The appeal of Big Brother

5. Things I'm doing right now
Half listening to sports reports I don't even care about
Wondering why the de-humidifier has developed a rattling noise

6. Things I want to do before I die
See our children to adulthood
Celebrate a fifty year anniversary with Dani in Amsterdam
Write more

7. Things I can do
Make yummy cheese scones
Speak up for what I think is right

8. Ways to describe my personality
God, I don't know!

9. Things I can't do
Get by without decent sleep
Stand on my hands
Drive a car

10. Things I think you should listen to
People who challenge your beliefs
Your inner voice
Waves on a shingle beach

11. Things you should never listen to
The voices of people who would make you less than you are
Cold callers
Announcements over fuzzy tannoys that you will never decipher

12. Things I'd like to learn
How to walk away from other people's anger
How to write anything with a plot
The fox-trot

13. Favourite foods
Treacle Pudding
Chinese Food

14. Beverages I drink regularly
Coke (bad, bad habit for so many reasons…)

15. Shows I watched as a kid
Blue Peter
That's Life
Play Away

16. People I'm tagging to do this meme
Think most people I read have done this already!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

On your marks, get set, GO!

This has been a weird week. The kids have been doing athletics courses (run by the council) at a stadium across town. Leo's ran from 9am to 10am, so we had to be out of the house by 8am every day from Monday to Friday. Pearl's course ran from 10.15 am to 3pm and so we had to go back across town to get her in the mid-afternoon. It made me realise how glad I am that we don't have to live like that all the time – it was tiring!

The athletics courses were quite good. Leo found the whole experience very exciting and we could usually hear him cackling away with mirth from the other side of the stadium! He was generally in a group with other six year olds, including a little girl he knows from capoeira. He joined in brilliantly and was wildly excited by the certificate he was given at the end of the week. Most of what he did was a bit like infant school sports day activities – bean bags on heads, throwing, running, hopping etc. But he was very pleased to have a go at 'hammer throwing' – a plastic thing with sand in!

Pearlie's course was altogether more demanding. I guess there were about ninety kids there – aged between eight and fifteen. Pearlie was so brave, going off each day, not knowing a soul, and giving everything a go. It was a pretty competitive atmosphere and the kids there were all sporty types, as they'd chosen a week of athletics! P got to try hammer, javelin, long jump, high jump and even pole-vaulting – as well as lots of running. She enjoyed it a lot and wants to do it again next year, maybe with a friend to keep her company. Pearlie's team won the over all competition, which ran on the Friday, so she was pleased. She got given a whole pile of free stuff – a bag, hat, t-shirt and sweat bands – courtesy of the sponsors, of course.

I found it very odd to be in such an overtly competitive and sporty environment – something I loathed as a child and teenager. The kids do active stuff (trampolining and capoeira) but neither of those are competitive really. Something about athletics freaks me out a bit – everything seems to be about winning.

Both kids were very tired by last night and Pearlie stropped off to her room when she realised that I had (stupidly) told Dani the outcome of the competition when she wanted to. Dani spent the evening frantically packing up camping gear for herself and P. They have left today for three days at an adventure camp, which hopefully P will manage to enjoy in spite of her tiredness. The original plan was for us all to go but after our last camping experience, and Leo's tiredness, we decided that L and I will spend this weekend at home. We might have persevered with the original plan but we also read that lots of the activities offered at the site are for over sevens only.

Dani and Pearlie have to negotiate an interesting journey home on Monday, using taxi, country bus, train and the Bluebell Steam Railway! I hope they make it ok. They are using a new tent which we got in the sale in Millets. They tested it out in the park, in the rain, the other day - so we know it should be ok!

Leo and I are having a relaxing weekend of tv, books, film and food. I can't say I'm sad about missing the abseiling, kayaking etc! We went to see Monster House today, which Leo enjoyed. I found that the style of animation and the speed of the swirling camera angles, made me feel quite sick! We've also watched a lot of Doctor Who. Leo was inspired to create a chained beast out of midi hama beads. It was fiddly to iron and I think the chains may fall off!

I must mention Leo's great enjoyment of the Edge Chronicles books. I have read him the complete Twig trilogy now. He is having a go at the Rook Barkwater trilogy– currently about five chapters in to 'The last of the sky pirates' – a dense and challenging read for a six year old. The books have really captured his imagination – coming out in his drawing, writing and conversation. He spent a whole bus journey mapping out his own fantasy land on his lap the other day! I am really enjoying the ones I am reading to him. I would never have chosen to read such a thing had it been up to me, so Leo has broadened my horizons there.

Leo's writing is interesting at the moment – here is an example for posterity.

This is from a book called 'Dark Death' by Leo Rogers, the spelling and punctuation (well, lack of!) is his own. It is written in printed letters, still a mixture of upper and lower case and with consistently backwards S.

There once was a island all bubley and throthey. Once the home of a family a family of peace now a shadow has awoken over its land casting a spell over all goods forever leading its future in your mind think of it that is how to travel there it was once alive now it is all bad. Your mision is to travel there and free it make it alive re=born with: maps giudes pictures
(The book then becomes a guide with pictures and labels

I am amazed at how accurate his spelling is these days and how clear it is that the language of the fantasy genre is appealing to him. He is slowly adopting punctuation too. It is interesting to me that he is throwing in colons (always question marks and often apostrophes too) and attempting hyphens (they come out as equals signs) but he has yet to get to grips with commas at all and often forgets full-stops.

I love his confidence and the way he owns every drawing or piece of writing he produces. If I ever have a moment of doubt about home ed I think about how much Leo is himself and how much he delights in all he can do. Everything he produces is entirely his own idea and often done without a word to us. I want to put this in so that it can serve as a reminder to me, on hard days, that autonomy works!

The other day Pearlie did a lovely drawing of an owl, using Leo's coloured pencils. P doesn't often draw, other than pattern and abstract art, but she seemed to enjoy it. I think she was very put-off by school art as they rushed in with the works of great artists (for her to copy) when she was four and had only just started doing representational drawing. I'll put up a picture of P's owl when I get the camera back from the campers!

This weekend is our fifteenth anniversary – shame we aren't together! I think we'll combine the celebration with my birthday next month and go out to our favourite restaurant. Can't really believe it was fifteen years ago we got together – even more astonishing to think that in fifteen years from now we'll have kids of twenty four and twenty one! It reminds me that we need to live in the moment as much as possible because tomorrow rushes at us and P and L won't be children for long.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Wet Wight

Our first camping venture was brought to an abrupt end by rain coming through into our tent after a night of steady rain halfway through the week! We decided to carry on with our holiday from the relative luxury of a nearby hotel (so much for camping being a cheap option!), and had a lovely time despite this setback.


Put up our little tent amongst many giant canvas buildings in the camping field of an enormous caravan park.

Felt a bit like aliens, as people openly turned to stare at us. I guess a family with two mums and no car was just too outlandish to pass without comment in that environment.
Went for a magical evening walk and saw bats swooping around our heads.


The campsite's outdoor pool was not heated enough for our skinny babes, so they splashed around in the indoor one for a bit. We spent the afternoon happily at Carisbrooke Castle, where we enjoyed the first of many gift shops on the island.

In the evening we rode down to the beach in a lift and walked back up to Shanklin's Old Village through the amazing Chine.


A lovely day in Sandown, just up the coast a little bit, where we visited tigers at the zoo (depressing reminder of their imminent extinction), learned a bit more about fossils and geology at Dinosaur Isle (warning: roaring website), and blew a load of money in the various gift shops. We followed this up with an impromptu visit to the beach.

That night it rained…


The morning was taken up with deciding what to do about our leaking tent. By the time we'd booked a hotel room and installed ourselves there it had stopped raining and turned into a beautiful afternoon, but we had already decided on a swimming trip, so I took the kids to the leisure centre in Sandown.


Ever in search of more gift shopping opportunities, we set off across the island to the Needles Park at Alum Bay. P. spent her last pennies on a glass tube filled with coloured sand from the amazing cliffs, we all enjoyed the thrilling chair lift ride,

and we watched boiled sweets being made.

After a frankly unpleasant lunch, we walked up onto the cliff top where we saw amazing birds of prey hovering absolutely still in the very strong winds. The man serving teas said he thought they were peregrine falcons, but we now think kestrels is more likely. Does anybody know?

The views were stunning.


We had planned a beach day for our last day, and there was some jolly good beach stuff done in the morning, but the clouds opened again,

so we retreated back to the hotel.

Other bits and bobs

The day before we set off was our neighbourhood community festival (seems ages ago now), and both kids dressed up as characters from Alice in Wonderland for the parade – Leo as the dodo

and Pearlie as the mouse.

This week they are both doing council run athletics courses, Leo's for an hour a day (at 9am!) and Pearlie's for most of the day. While she was running, hurdling, long jumping and hammer throwing today, Leo and I met up with some MMs friends for a very enjoyable Booth Museum and park outing.

As we had already booked another small camping trip for the bank holiday weekend, Allie had to rush out and buy another tent today. Hope this one works better…

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Out from under

We're tunnelling out from the chaos of our house to go off on another holiday on Monday, and may not get a chance to blog again before we go, but I just wanted to put down a few good things we've done in the last couple of days.

Our meet in the park on Monday was good fun. The kids were happy to see their friends and explore the play equipment in a different park.

Tuesday was another park day, with a different group of HE friends, after the regular Squeezebox session in the morning.

We went up to London for the afternoon and evening on Wednesday, to take part in the Bridges Conference Family day. My parents had been involved in the rest of the conference, and my father was offering his weaving as one of the activities available for people to try out. We spent quite a lot of money at the wickedly tempting Tarquin bookstall, and also bought this lovely device for cutting circles out of card.

Leo settled down for over an hour at a table run by Jacqui Carey, who was teaching people the beginnings of the craft of kumihimo, or Japanese braiding. Once he understood the technique, he worked patiently and happily to produce a beautiful braid, much to the admiration of several passing adults. His comment was, "It's great – it makes you feel all cool, and you forget everything else."

Meanwhile, Pearlie flitted about the various other activities on offer, including some mathematical origami with David Mitchell, and some paper plate construction, from the astonishing Bradford Hansen Smith. He thrilled both children by giving them each a stack of paper plates at the end of the day.

We rounded off an enjoyable day with a glimpse of an enormous Zometool construction that had been made by conference participants during the day, followed by a meal with my parents. Both kids are now hooked on kumihimo braiding, and plan to take their braiding disks and embroidery threads with them on holiday next week.

Everyone was too tired to be pleasant on Thursday, so we'll pass swiftly on to today's Friday frolics at the swimming pool with Allie's mum and all the local cousins, followed by a quick library visit. Leo was thrilled to find that the Edge Chronicles have several parallel sequences, so he has started reading The Last Sky Pirate while Allie is still finishing off Midnight over Sanctaphrax as a bedtime story. Pearlie and I are at the thrilling conclusion of Born of the Sun, and she seems to have started a Jacqueline Wilson kick, with Double Act today, to follow on from The Lottie Project last week.

Both kids have spent much of the last few days working on secret comic projects, together and separately. Leo today began the first page of an illustrated story, not a comic, inspired by the Edge Chronicles.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cuddlies, Mud and Pride!


The kids spent the morning tipping out boxes of cuddly creatures on their bedroom floors. When not bickering endlessly the kids are currently most interested in major and messy projects which they conduct together. This cuddly toys excavation started as a search for all monkeys that we own ( to accompany us on Pride – more later) but became a joyful re-uniting of children and bears, bunnies, pigs, elephants etc. etc. This lasted over a couple of days and included a partial inventory and total stock count – 346 – a ridiculous total for a house this size and just two children, but no more than I deserve given my own childhood obsession with all things cuddly. My mum finds it very amusing that the kids have such a passion for creatures and name and profess love for each and every one, as I was so similar as a child. I can only hope that it starts to wane soon…

The other thing the kids are loving at the moment is their mud constructions in the garden. This is very elaborate and I think quite therapeutic for Pearlie who is going through a bit of an up and down patch. They make pools and mini bridges and today constructed a scene of carnage where the plastic lion was devouring several other animals who were covered in cherry juice blood!

Scene of the Lion attack! Posted by Picasa

I am trying not to nag constantly about the mud and water trailed in through the bathroom, and the rate at which towels are being caked in mud when 'clean' hands are dried, as I think that playing with mud has to be a human right and that this is a 'good thing' compared to the amount of tv repeats that used to be watched when we had Sky.

In the afternoon, on Wednesday, I went to town and got all my hair chopped off by a young woman who was amazed at the idea of HE and thought it would have been good for her as she was 'really naughty' at school. I also spent money in the fabulous Bravissimo and on a couple of new tops.

When I got home the kids were just convincing Dani to take them out on a brief park trip with a few 'special' creatures they had found. They took turns sending them down the slide to each other.

In the evening we all went out to a Pride week event put on by the wonderful Brighton Ourstory a lesbian and gay local history project. This has been going since the late 1980s and the event was a show first put on in 1990 – looking at the lives of four people born between 1917 and 1968. I think Pearlie got something out of it (she certainly noticed the 'rude' bits) and Leo was quiet and ate TicTacs! They were both total stars and behaved impeccably. Dani and I loved it and I was almost moved to tears several times. A sudden image of a grinning Dani and girlfriend, in about 1989, filled the screen at one point and I had a rush of memories of those days and how desperately I wanted to end up with her. And I did! Result!!


I started Thursday morning with two hours of cleaning for our next door neighbour, for a bit of extra cash. I hope I can manage to keep this up in the long term as it is really handy.

The kids carried on with cuddly creature and mud activities.

In the afternoon I took the children in to town in search of trainers, as they both have a week long athletics summer school coming up. Leo was shod in the first shop we visited (Clarks) as he is an easy 12 ½ G fitting. Poor Pearlie is now 'between a 2 and a 2 ½ and very narrow' – for this you just read ' and not one pair of trainers we have will fit her'. Sadly, not one pair of trainers in any of the other four shops we tried fitted her either. This involved more time than any of us care to spend in sports shops with young staff who seem to have been trained in the art of poor service. I don't usually mind if service is a bit off-hand as I find it embarrassing when people are too attentive, but when you have to chase the staff around the shop to try to get help it does get tiring! We gave up in the end and went home.

In the evening Dani and I put together a big storage box for the back garden, which will hold both Dani and Pearlie's bikes. It takes up a lot of ground in our little yard, but I think it is worth it to get the vehicles out of the house. Pearlie has decided she wants to save up for one of her own and live in it.


Dani was at work all day on Friday. Pearlie, Leo and I met up with cousin B (6) and his mum for a trip to the swimming pool in town. This was a great success, in spite of the fact that I was dosed up on migraleve and battling off a migraine, as B felt inspired to abandon his armbands - as Leo no longer has them. I had to spend a lot of time underwater listening to things that Pearlie was saying and trying to work them out. The boys played on the little slide but Pearlie's long legs virtually reach into the water from the top of the slide these days so she found that a bit pointless. Everyone had a good long swim and then we came home via the bagel shop, with a bag of fresh baked bagels.

In the evening my mum came to baby sit so we could go out to another Pride event – a performance night with some solo women singers and a couple of groups. We had a really lovely time, saw lots of people we haven't seen in years. Rather amusingly I was at the bar when a photographer came up and asked if he could get a shot of Dani and the woman sitting next to her, to which they both replied (in shocked tones)
"We're not together!"
Even better was that the woman was in fact there with an old ex of Dani's! I haven't been in any club type environment for the best part of ten years at least and was astonished to find hair straighteners in the loo?? A bit like the hairdryers at the pool but considerably more hazardous I should think, especially given that they are almost bound to be used by drunk women! I had two bottles of beer and was totally tipsy, so low has my alcohol tolerance fallen. It was a bit silly to drink at all given the state of my head and that on Saturday it was

Pride !

Costumes were wonderful Posted by Picasa

The sun shone Posted by Picasa

Love was in the air Posted by Picasa

The theme of this year's Pride was 'Carry On' – as in the films. I tried not to allow my political consciousness to connect with that too much as we put on Safari type gear, draped cuddly monkeys on ourselves, and set off for the parade. We joined in with the Rainbow Families group who had chosen 'Carry on up the jungle' as their theme – with giant banana. A few brave souls had done the whole parade, carrying babies in back carriers, pushing toddlers in buggies, and so on. We just did the last part, which was enough for us all in the heat. My mum paraded with us and kept the kids supplied with mints and hands to hold.

The real Babs Windsor was there too! Posted by Picasa

As usual, my favourite thing was seeing the different groups in the parade, rather than the flashy floats from the clubs and bars. The gay fire fighters had a fire engine as usual - driven by an old friend of ours who clearly loves the annual opportunity to impress the girls with her big truck and flashing lights. I like the fact that once a year we get to see just how many gay people keep essential services going in this city, and how diverse we are as a group. There are people of all ages in the parade - and the watching crowd is very mixed too. This year I was struck by all the special claps, cheers and thumbs up the Rainbow Families group got from people watching – made me want to cry (again!) and made me so pleased that we are bringing the children up here and now, where their lives aren't being blighted by the homophobia we knew so well as young women and which we would still have to deal with in lots of other places.

Once the parade is over the event in the park isn't really so great for us these days. The stalls are full of mega-expensive stuff, most of which we don't want the kids to examine in great detail(!) The dance tents are clearly out of bounds for the kids – heaving, hot and rather heavy on the naked buttocks. The fun fair concentrates on big scary rides to make the queens scream. So, after a quick stroll round we set off for home before the kids flaked out.

Probably the only place we would have liked to go was the women's performance tent but that was packed and we have to be more aware of Leo's feelings around women's space these days. In fact, both the children were appalled by the idea of a 'women's centre', when we passed it in town the other day, on the grounds that it was 'not fair on men'. I was very pleased they reacted in that way, as I think it's important that they've got such well established ideas of fairness. We try very hard to make sure that gender isn't a limit on people's choices in this family and to make it clear that any person can be an admirable one, for many reasons. Time enough later on to talk about self-organisation and oppression. Right now I'm glad that the children's instinct about separatism is that it is outrageous – I think the whole world could learn from that message right now…

Leo declared the park 'Leoland!' Posted by Picasa

In the evening Pearlie spent some time chalking a mini pride flag on the pavement outside and both kids went to bed very tired.


Today we were all in need of a rest, except perhaps Pearlie who was born without a need for rest! I am not really joking about that. She strove to move every moment from birth. By three months she would strain to sit up if laid on her back, by ten months she could get to her feet from a flat floor and toddle off, by a year she was running, and so on. So, this morning, as the rest of us flopped about blearily with tea and toast, she started unpacking the tent we are going to take camping next week.

This tent is a great gift from D's parents, who aren't using it any more. It just about fitted in the kitchen, once we got the right poles inserted in the right sleeves! Pearlie, after getting it all unpacked, declined to take any further part in the assembly, as apparently we were being too bossy and taking it over. Ideally Pearlie would like to do such jobs alone. I think she is finding being nine very irritating and would like to get on with growing up now. She has extensive plans for her teenage years, including walking all around the coast of the British Isles, climbing Ben Nevis, and taking part in the London to Brighton cycle ride.

This afternoon Leo and I took lots of washing to the launderette (our machine is out of action during decorating and building work) and did some pages in his maths book. He is enjoying this at the moment – getting some satisfaction from the completed pages, I think. It is nothing special at all, just a book I got reduced in 'The Works'. It was £1.25, which is possibly about what it is worth.

Dani and Pearlie went to town and managed to get Pearlie trainers, at last. Dani is by far the better mum to do that job as P's strange feet are inherited from her and so she can look at a load of pairs of shoes and know which are worth trying. P also spent some of her own money on a thing called a Buff – a sort of multi-purpose head gear, which she thinks is really 'cool'.

This evening the children wanted to play with Leo's 'Beat the Clock' kit – a present from my dad. It is a little box with a stopwatch, record sheets, and a book of ideas for activities you could do. Leo wasn't very happy with the competitiveness at first, as he is very aware that P will always be faster than him, but once he got the idea that he could set his own targets he was ok. Pearlie loves competition and can't resist pointing out her victories, but Leo took it with good grace and declared himself happy with his performance and his silver medals. They did timed running, hopping, jumping, skipping and star jumps. After half an hour of that they were completely shattered and we all ate tea in front of the telly.

Actually, virtually the only tv the kids want to watch at the moment is videos of Fawlty Towers, which suits us fine. Their favourite is my favourite too, 'The Kipper and the Corpse'. I never tire of watching them. They do have quite a lot of violence and silly sexual innuendo but I watched them when I was L and P's ages and loved them. The wonderful thing is that you can watch them over and over again and still laugh out loud, they are so well written. The children don't seem to notice how old they are. Mind you, I used to love watching Harold Lloyd when I was a kid, so I guess classic comedy always works.

Anyway, MMs meet up in a fairly distant park tomorrow, so I think I'd better get some sleep.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sussex adventures

The last few days have included:
  • A too-brief visit to the Where the Days Go swimming picnic at the amazing Pells Pool in Lewes. P. and L. were too cold in the water to enjoy the swimming bit, which was sad, but we all liked the picnic and especially the bubbles. I loved the pool – it brought back a flash of memory of the outdoor pool at the primary school across the road from my childhood home, where I used to go for summer playschemes.
  • A hot and dusty bus and foot journey to a fascinating archaeological dig at Barcombe, where they have discovered an enormous Roman Villa. The kids were shown how to dig and sort finds from rubble, and we had a go at dowsing and using a geophysics machine during a tour of the site. We saw an amazing flint hand-axe they had discovered under the Roman foundations, and were enthused by the obvious excitement and passion of the archaeologists.
  • A lovely visit to Allie's dad in Haywards Heath, enlivened hugely by the presence of their adorable new kitten. The kitten moved too quickly to be photographed but I got a couple of good ones of the kids in the garden.

  • A quick stop at the costume making workshop for our neighbourhood festival in a couple of weeks. There's an Alice in Wonderland theme, so Leo made a start on a Dodo costume and Pearlie chose to be the mouse that swims with Alice in the pool of tears. It remains to be seen whether either of these costumes get finished, however.
  • A flying visit to the library to pick up reserved books, Midnight over Sanctaphrax and Prince of rags & patches.
  • An extravagant cinema trip to see Stormbreaker, which was a lot of fun.
  • Squeezebox, followed by a mammoth park session with HE friends