Monday, November 27, 2006

Fast forward

We have been doing continuing battle against Indian Meal Moths and generally being TOO BUSY of late, so we haven’t been blogging. It is hard to do a catch-up, so here are a few things we’ve been doing.

Dani and Pearlie went for a bit of bike ride. Sadly they were driven away from the cycle track by men playing football across it.


Pearlie and I tidied her room and we put a few toys in the loft – a compromise as P can’t bear to get rid of things. She actually seems pleased to have a tidy room and is planning to keep it that way – for a while at least!


Leo has been enjoying Maths Man on Schools TV. He suddenly finds all his maths puzzle books obvious, so we went to buy him something for slightly older kids. He understands fractions very well – was able to tell me what 50 reduced by one fifth would be. Interestingly he still isn’t very clear of some maths notation as he does so much in day to day life, so he wasn’t sure what 8 – 1 meant!


Pearlie (and Leo to a lesser extent) is really enjoying Club Penguin. She’s leading a busy life there and meeting up with real life friends in virtual spaces. She particularly likes the Astro Barrier game, which is a game a bit like space invaders but with a lot of logic too. If you don’t shoot the thingys in the right order you can’t get them all. The kids type to communicate with other penguins so they are getting bit quicker on the keyboard.


The kids did lots of running in the street where I had to time them both with their own stop watches!


Leo has been adding lots to his ‘Great Library’ of books and drawings. This is a box tied to the banisters half way up the stairs. We seem to have had about five years of things tied around the hallway. It is very narrow (we live in a tall thin little terraced house) and I have to confess I am looking forward to the time when I can walk around with fewer hazards.


Crystal growing – both kids have crystal growing kits and at the moment we have a window sill full of different coloured liquids with varying crystal growth.


Battle with meal moths has entailed the purchase of many tupperwares (hitting the credit card hard!) to protect our rice, pasta, bread flour etc. We have been reading of people who have to fight the damn creatures for years. I swear that the kitchen cupboards have never been so spotless – hovered, scrubbed, bleached and stacked with Tupperware boxes. Not a single crisp packet remains unprotected! Sadly, most of the rest of the house is a tip as we don’t have enough time to see to that too.


Pearlie has been knitting with Dani from time to time.


P has been continuing to look at crime and punishment at kids’ club. She told me today that people in prison sometimes get given a job of untangling headphones??


Pearlie had a really encouraging Squeezebox session. Her reduced band (now just drummer and singer) has been merged with a bass player and guitarist from another band. It looks like they’ve got a good chance of being in the Christmas gig.


Leo is now talking about returning to Squeezebox so we’re working out if we can afford some one to one keyboard sessions for him in the new year. Meanwhile he’s been playing his keyboard at home today.


Dani wrote a great letter to send to Alan Johnson about the DFES consultation on home ed.


Both kids are getting on well at Woodcraft folk. At Pearlie’s last session a guy came who taught them how to do stage fighting – which she loved. At Leo’s session today they were making lanterns to take to the ‘Burning the Clocks’ parade.


Lots of good conversations at the moment. One that springs to mind was about antibiotics, over use, and MRSA. This is something that comes up in our local paper a lot as our local hospital has the worst MRSA rate in the country.


We also had a great talk about approaches to HE – prompted by anxiety on my part over what the government is planning. Pearlie said that if we followed the National Curriculum just to make sure they had nothing to criticise then we’d be ‘faking our belief in not needing to use it’.


Leo has been doing a lot of pencil drawing. We have some nice big paper at MMs at the moment and he’s enjoying working his way through it.


Dani and I are getting a bit tired of our weekly schedule of work and groups. We need our Christmas break now…

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Catching up and ranting on...

Friday

Friday was a bring and buy sale in aid of Children in Need. About fifty home eddors from Sussex met up and exchanged toys, books, games and home made cakes. The total raised was nearly one hundred quid – not bad. I am not actually a great fan of things like Children in Need. I suspect that those kind of big charity events waste a hell of a lot of money once you take into account all the admin necessary in grant giving. And they do tend to rely on pity a fair bit. But, then again, money does get to all kinds of good causes.

After that the kids and I went to a library so they could have a quiet read and my chocolate cake induced migraine could ease. That was really nice.

In the evening we watched a bit of the Children in Need telly thingy and it happened to be a local segment featuring Allsorts youth project, which runs in Brighton. Pearlie seemed astonished that kids get grief from family and community when they come out as lesbian or gay. We tried to explain a bit, which ended with this exchange.
Allie: “So, that’s something you don’t need to worry about. Whoever you choose to love and live with, that’s fine by us.”
Pearlie: “Which, in my case, will be cats.”
So, that’s all sorted then!

I spent the evening reading Julian Clary’s autobiography. I then hunted through a lot of old sentimental stuff (letters, cards, tickets and so on) looking for a ticket I thought I had from a ‘Joan Collins Fan Club’ show I saw in Brighton in about 1988. I didn’t find it but I had a nice time looking through stuff.

Saturday

I went to work. Leo had a pyjamas day working on a space ship that landed upstairs. He also filled a bag with lots of drawing and writing to be his ‘barkscrolls’. Pearlie spent a lot of time on the computer. She was using a free cd from the Independent to work on her family tree. This was an interesting task, involving lots of gender re-assignment and surname alteration. Pearlie also looked at Flash Earth – finding lots of family homes round the country. Dani knitted and aided children when asked.


Dani finally finished this bag!

Sunday

I went to work. Dani and the kids went to the Rockery for a bit.

Autumn colour at the rockery.

They had to stay in for Leo to have a big strop for a while. He is suddenly very aware that Pearlie has a fine bicycle and he doesn’t. We are not really keen to get him a bike yet as he is nowhere near being ready to ride one. I don’t think he really wants one but he just wanted to point out the unfairness. Eventually he changed his demand to a ‘shopping basket on wheels, like Paddington has.’ He is having a little flurry of enthusiasm for Paddington at the moment, which is nice. When I was looking through old stuff the other night found my Paddington note book - a Christmas present when I was five or six.

Monday

We had our usual Monday morning rush of Dani to work, Pearlie to Kids’ Club and me and Leo to MMs. After MMs I had to go on to work. MMs was good, but is definitely in something of a transitional phase as it adjusts to the recent influx on new members.

When I got home from work I heard about Pearlie’s day, including afternoon at the grandmothers’ where they had a Scrabble fest and she beat my mum. She’d also done some French. Leo showed me his new Woodcraft Folk badge and told me about a singing session.

Tuesday

We waited in for Tesco this morning – their van was broken. My mum came round with emergency supplies. Pearlie spent lots of time on the computer again. She is enjoying a website of riddles – really enjoying the lateral thinking involved. Leo got involved with plastic animals and dinosaurs who are launching an attack on some Sylvanians. My mum tried to encourage him to get them to enter some kind of negotiation process but he wasn’t interested.

After lunch I took Pearlie to the hospital for her appointment at the gait clinic. This involved a long wait but nothing more invasive than a useful conversation about padded insoles and foot structure. It also involved some inevitable exchanges – “no, she doesn’t go to school – she’s home educated…Yes, she is very thin. She does eat…” But he was a nice enough bloke and Pearlie was pleased that he didn’t ban heelys outright – as long as she doesn’t wear them all the time! Looks like the Christmas budget needs restructuring if she wants a pair of those. They are something of a craze among Pearlie’s home ed friends.

Politics, Religion, an’ all that…

I have to say that I don’t, repeat DON’T admire Robert Kilroy Silk – or agree with everything he says. I am well aware that he is a racist, sexist, patronising idiot. What I was attempting to record was the bizarre experience I have watching political progs on the telly these days. I find myself agreeing with the words coming from the mouths of all kinds of unlikely people. I find myself nodding along with the words of Portillo on ‘This Week.’ This is not something I could have predicted! The world is all loopy these days. What I realise is that people speak clearest when they’ve got nothing to lose. Kilroy is the kind of person who has nowhere to go – he is a joke and even he probably realises this now – so he just speaks out. Portillo does the same, probably for the same reasons. It’s that ‘speaking out’ that I like. I think that ten years of mealy mouthed non-speak has made clear opinion very attractive.

Nic posted something interesting the other day about beliefs and tolerance and so on. I agree with a lot of what she said. I think I was brought up to scoff at religion – not helpful or sensible, or even kind. I caused quite a ripple in the family by winning the RE prize at school. I liked the O level course we did – which was split into three sections – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I actually learned some useful stuff that has helped in life, albeit pretty superficial. So I don’t encourage the kids to scoff. They understand that people have religious beliefs, and that they matter to them. But it is a complicated business explaining religion when you don’t have any, and when you truly believe that it is a negative force in the world. I believe that more and more with every year that passes. Of course, there’s not a lot to be done about it!

It is also hard to explain that “yes, we have to respect X’s religious beliefs but we don’t have to agree with them because they include the belief that your mummies should not love each other and that we are not a family.” Like anyone else, we don’t like having to discuss the fact that some people hate and despise us for what we are. But we try to make it part of explaining our belief that no-one should be despised for who they are – for their colour, religion, nationality, sexuality – anything. And for children this is pretty obvious. When we talk about Palestine, or the Holocaust, or slavery, or the suppression of sign language, the children see the injustices so clearly. It’s a shame that children don’t have more power in the world.

I also have had dear friends who have been brought to the brink of despair through trying to reconcile their faith with their sexuality. They’ve had to deny themselves a partner, companionship, love and sex because they thought they were damning themselves to hell if they had those things. And they thought that the people who professed love and care in the name of religion would withdraw that if they told the truth about themselves. Such is life. I know that. But I look at the lives of friends who had all that to deal with and then I look at my godless family and I want to promote atheism – on street corners, with loudhailers!

And one of the things we do have, in this country, for now at least, is some freedom of speech. If I want to shout loud and proud about our godless lives then I can. And so sometimes, just sometimes, I will.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Being clever, making mistakes

When I was seven I had a maths book at school that included ‘fun’ little investigations. For one such task I had to record the eye colour of the pupils in my class and then make a bar chart. I had never before done such a task and quickly got caught up in two serious problems.

The first problem was that eye colour didn’t seem to fit their categories. If someone had greeny/grey eyes then should they go under ‘green’ or ‘grey’? Now I can see that as a positive learning experience about the reality of people – people don’t fit categories well and when we try to categorise people it usually involves some distortion of the truth. But at seven this was a major worry.

The second was the fact that I had never tried to get information from a large group of people before so I just started randomly recording colours without noting down who I had asked. This quickly became impossible as I wasn’t sure who I’d asked and who I hadn’t. Now this too was a valuable learning experience, as anyone who has attempted to take accurate tea and coffee orders for a large group will tell you. But it added to the mess in my notebook and the general confusion in my mind.

I do remember the confusion, but the overwhelming emotion that colours my memory of this maths investigation is panic. The kind of sick panic that keeps re-surfacing in your mind when you are trying not to think about your worry. I can remember sleepless nights and the inevitable note from my mum to explain to my teacher that I was ‘a bit worried’ about my maths. And then the horrible moment of having to stand by her desk while she inspected my book and all the messy evidence of my failed attempts.

Getting things wrong was not a common experience for me at primary school. I have one or two other memories of similar situations, but no more than that. You see, I was ‘clever’ and ‘good’, which in school terms meant that I found most of what I was asked to do obvious and that I did as I was told – to the point of obsession. I could write a whole separate piece on what ‘good’ meant and the fear that bubbled inside me for years, fear of accidentally breaking some rule I didn’t know about. But the ‘clever’ bit was just as powerful, and possibly more so, as it persisted throughout my years in formal education.

I can remember the hot tide of blush sweeping up my face when I was faced with a blank look from my RE teacher in answer to this exchange.
“Now, who knows what a missionary is?”
My hand goes up – as usual.
“Yes, Annalie?”
“It’s a person who is paid to go to foreign countries and kill people.”
Well, I’d been listening to my big brother’s records and had asked him about the song “Oliver’s Army”, by Elvis Costello. So he’d given me a nice simple explanation all about mercenaries…

I was about eight when that one happened, but I can remember one even younger – when I was in reception, aged five. I had to write some sentences and for some reason, that day, I couldn’t get the letters to go small. I can remember looking at my book and willing the letters to get smaller as I wrote them. But, that day, they just wouldn’t. I went to queue up at the teacher’s desk and waited, the same sick feeling rising in my throat.
“Annalie, dear me, now what a mess this is. What would your mother think if she saw this at parent’s evening next week?”
I couldn’t imagine that my mum would care, my mum would be hugging me if she was here, I wouldn’t have this sick feeling.
“Now, we’ll stick this piece of paper over the messy writing and you can go and do it again.”
And the worst, the worst part of this memory is that the same thing happened. I looked at my hand, I willed the writing to be smaller, and the letters kept coming out big, round, blobby. I had to go out to play knowing that the teacher was disappointed in me.

Now I can’t believe that anything so small, so silly is lodged there in my memory. I can’t help but wonder if the teachers involved had the tiniest inkling of what their words, their looks, felt like to me.

It is often assumed that it is not the ‘clever’ kids who suffer in school. I wouldn’t want to claim that I had a worse time than the children who couldn’t read or write, who never knew the answer, who were told off every day. But it has taken me years to realise that being labelled ‘clever’ was not healthy for me. The acute anxiety I felt until I was eight or nine was like carrying a weight around. I can remember the overwhelming joy of Friday walks home from school. At home I was just me.

Even if I became more confident later on I still felt the pressure not to make mistakes, to know the answer, to live up to the teacher’s expectations. By secondary school I was in a stream of ‘clever’ kids. People in the ‘x band’ did Latin, got hours of home work and were constantly reminded that we were the ones who were expected to get good ‘o’ levels and so on. I got increasingly bolshy, but that was often a cover for the persistent fear that I would ‘let someone down’ by revealing all the things I didn’t know.

When I started my first Saturday job I was diligent, as expected, and I could get those ladybird books sorted into alphabetical order quicker than you could say ‘knife’. But it took me years, literally years, of shop work to be confident in my interactions with customers and colleagues. I’d answer the phone before I’d even picked up a pen, and in my panic fail to take in anything that the caller was saying. I didn’t realise for a long time that you could say, outright, that you didn’t know the answer to a question but that you would find out. I’d stand there, filled with shame because I couldn’t remember if we took Berlitz travel guides and I knew I had been told. It took me a while to realise that the customers just wanted me to be helpful, not give them perfect answers!

I think that it is only really in the years since I have become a parent that I have let go the anxiety of being a ‘clever girl’. I now care very little what people think of me. I know what I know and I can do what I can do. When I don’t know I just ask – it’s so simple!

What makes me hopeful is that my children don’t seem to have much anxiety about how ‘clever’ they are. They don’t judge their friends by ‘cleverness’ either. Both children have friends who can’t read yet and it means little to them. In school it took Pearlie about a term to get firmly settled into a peer group of other little ‘clever’ girls – all in the same group for literacy and numeracy. In the world of home ed she just accepts that people have different skills, talents, interests and desires.

It has to be healthier for children not to be constantly ranking themselves and others. It has to be healthier for children to feel safe to ask questions, to make mistakes. In school life gets made into a race and I think it is a race that everyone loses, even the ‘winners’.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Robert Kilroy Bumcrack"

Had to use that title as it is a quote from one of my favourite moments in Victoria Wood's Dinnerladies.

Having a strange time watching Question Time. I really dislike Robert Kilroy Silk but just found myself agreeing with him… And he makes my skin crawl, and everything, eeww… And he’s an ignorant fart too... But it is refreshing to hear someone saying that he finds religion silly.

Anyway, here’s a catch up.

Wednesday

Leo and I took Pearlie to Squeezebox. She came out very bubbly after a good session.

In the afternoon the kids went to Capoeira and both had good classes.

At bed time last night Leo noticed that Dani had changed the smoke alarm for a new one. I told him that she had done that because the old one wasn’t working properly and he said:
“Yes, we don’t want to be incinerated.”
Love that boy’s command of the language!

In the evening Dani and I watched a DVD of Brokeback Mountain. Somehow we had managed to miss it at the pictures. It was a really great film and left us both feeling very lucky.

Thursday

I had about ten minutes from waking up to get to my morning cleaning job. Dani had the same time to get both kids dressed, fed and out the door with the right stuff.

Pearlie went to Kids’ Club where they had a visit from someone who is going to be coming to do some sports workshops with them. Not sure what else they did, but she came away happy.

Leo went to the grandmothers’ house where he apparently made a ‘dance mat’ for his toy gecko and pot bellied pig.

Pearlie also had yoga and Woodcraft Folk later in the day. The three groups in one day thing is a bit much for her and she’s very tired tonight.

I got home from my real work tonight and found a lot of playmobil on the kitchen floor. I really like all those little people with their snap off hair – better go and play.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Broken printer, crawling beasties, productive people

Saturday 11th November to Tuesday 14th November 2006

Saturday

Pearlie went to the theatre with her cousin S. They saw a comedy improvisation show, which they both declared brilliant.
Leo and I went in to town to get some stuff for our Home Ed group – and general bits and bobs. It was horribly busy and I realised that it must be the start of the seasonal rush. We had to faff about for ages trying to find the right ink cartridge for our printer.
The printer turns out to be dead anyway. I had a look on the internet and found a long thread of chat about how this printer thingy just conks out after a while. It seems it has a fault where dried ink inside eventually blasts a tube off. This is why it doesn’t happen gradually, suddenly it just doesn’t feed any ink through. It’s out of guarantee now and I guess it really isn’t worth getting it fixed if this is just going to happen again. Another irritating expense – and creation of a big lump of waste. I did send an email to the manufacturer who told me to do the head cleaning process! Oh yeah, I’d never have thought of that… Well, Duh! (As Pearlie would say…)

Sunday


I went to work and Dani and the kids went to the park for a bit. They found some cousins and some local home eddors, as usual!
I arrived home to excited kids bounding around telling me “we are infested”! It turns out that the inoffensive little brown moth that fluttered out of the guinea pig food was an Indian Meal Moth that had then found a bag of nuts in the back of our baking cupboard and set up a family. YUCK!
So Dani and I spent a happy evening cleaning the whole kitchen – even the bits we never get to, like behind the cooker. We had to throw away quite a lot of open bags of stuff that we couldn’t be certain hadn’t been got to by the little white caterpillars.

Monday

Pearlie went to Kids’ Club, where they are looking at nasty punishments of the olden days. She has spent some time talking about cutting off noses, and so on, since then. She actually knows quite a lot about that stuff from Horrible Histories. After Kids’ Club she went on to the Grandmothers’ house and did a bit of French, as well as learning some killer Scrabble words.

Leo and I went to MMs, where it was another busy session. I’d taken along some play maize stuff, which we’d never used before. Leo managed to string a few bits together but most of the younger kids just melted it in bowls of water. I think they quite enjoyed doing that but I was a bit disappointed with the product.

In the evening Dani was running Leo’s Woodcraft session. Because Leo’s Elfins group is parent led she has to take a turn on the rota. They made Christmas pudding – all taking a turn to stir it and make a wish.

Pearlie and I watched a Cadfael mystery on DVD. It is such luxury to get to watch things I really enjoy, after all those years of Teletubbies and Postman Pat. I knew Pearlie would like Cadfael - mystery, history and herbs are all popular with her.

Tuesday

Both kids were tired today. Pearlie is setting an early alarm so she can watch Arthur on TV. Leo is just tired – maybe it’s a bug. He also seems very hungry though, so it could be he’s growing a lot.

Anyway, we started the day with a full on screaming row before breakfast – which was not the best start to a rainy, indoors day. But once we had all eaten, we started a surprisingly successful morning of games. Leo bought a second hand set of Uno the other day, and we played that for a bit. Then we played Scrabble.

Scrabble is such a good game. I think we did own a junior scrabble once but it wasn’t a patch on the real thing. Leo is doing very well, starting to find and place his own words. Pearlie is getting really good – and she won’t accept even the tiniest hints of help.

After lunch we watched an old video of Campion. Pearlie wanted to know ‘how famous’ he is, as a character. I told her he wasn’t as well known as Poirot but that people who like murder mysteries would know him. I told her how Margery Allingham wrote the first Campion book when she was only about fifteen. She told me that Mary Shelley was very young when she wrote Frankenstein.

Leo started making a lap book about Pot Bellied Pigs. He is very pleased with these pigs since he found a toy one at the weekend. He has made it a bed, which it shares (rather strangely) with a gecko! He also spent some time Googling for pictures of very cute ones. We had to email the pictures to Dani so she could print them out at work. I don’t think we can live without a printer for long.

Pearlie made a lovely little quiz book about tapirs – an animal she particularly likes. She made the whole thing herself, written by hand because she had no printer, and it took a few hours. When Dani came home with pictures she added them. She’s really chuffed with it. She tested all of us and told us our scores. For an autonomous HE child she really likes tests – as long as she does the testing!

Over tea we talked with the kids about the possibility of government plans to challenge our HE freedoms. That turned out to be an interesting conversation that covered all sorts of things.

We have finally finished a report of the little survey of local home eddors we did with a friend– asking about LEA contact. We shall be distributing them to local home eddors and sending it to the LEA. Recent news makes me worried that all this effort will have been pointless. We’ve taken the line that their policies and practices need to follow the law, consistently. But if they manage to change the law…

No - trying not to get gloomy.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A nice walk in the woods - and a rant!

Wednesday

Pearlie went to Squeezebox in the morning. Both kids went to capoeira in the afternoon.

Thursday

I worked all day. Pearlie did Kids’ Club, (they’re working on a mock tv advert for their new chocolate bar, P is in charge of a flying pig??) she then had a bit of time at home with Dani before Yoga class and then Woodcraft Folk. She was pretty tired when I got home.

Leo spent a happy few hours at the grandmothers’ house. My mum had a really bad back but she worked with him on one of those puzzle books where you follow clues to solve a mystery. Dani finished that with him in the evening.

Friday at Wilderness Woods

Today one of the local HE mums had a booked a guided walk at Wilderness Woods. This is a lovely managed wood – sweet chestnut trees that were dropping nuts everywhere, and a Christmas tree plantation. The woman guiding the walk showed us quite a lot of interesting fungi, and pointed out other stuff. I don’t think she’d had much dealings with HE kids before as she was quite keen on telling them what she wanted to tell them next, and less keen on getting diverted by their questions! I have noticed that lots of HE kids really don’t respond well to that fake style of questioning where you know the questioner has the answer. She even tried to get them to chant back the answer when she had given it – all a bit odd! I suspect that what would have worked better would have been to plant herself in a central place and be ready to answer any questions that people had.

Anyway, it was a beautiful wood and the play area had a rather fine flying fox thingy, so the kids were happy. P was a bit under the weather today. I gave her a dose of Calpol before we left as everything was making her cry (tv progs, hair tangles, breakfast…) and, as L and I have both had a bit of a cold this week, it is likely she is battling something off. P is so rarely ill that we tend to forget it is even a possibility! P was pretty jolly during the visit as two friends she wasn’t expecting to see were there. Leo did the whole walk with his rucksack full of Edge Chronicles books…

We stopped at a fine old church on the way home – not one I have ever been to before. It was a Thirteenth century church with lots of lovely stuff in it – a vestments chest from about 1260 and a wonderful carved pulpit from the 1600s. I like old churches because they remind me of long, summer country walks with my dad, when I was about Pearlie’s age. The kids were enthusiastic too.

Thanks to the mum who organised it and took us in her car!

In other news…

Well, murmurings on the home ed email lists are indicating that the govt may be gearing up to deal with the ‘anomaly’ (as they put it) of our freedom to determine the nature and content of our children’s education. Great. The Every Child Matters agenda that is sweeping through the agencies of the state looks set to be translated into ‘make sure every child’s education is controlled by us’. This is really bad news for home educators. One of the best things about the law around HE in this country is that it does give us the freedom to define education in our own terms. Sadly, of course, this really can’t be allowed in this era of the ever present ‘expert’ and they are bound to try to pin us down to make sure that our children are ‘achieving’.

It really would make me laugh it wasn’t so sad. The government spend half the time telling us children are badder, sadder, less fit, less able to communicate, more dangerous – and the other half telling us that the answer to all these woes is yet more of their bloody initiatives, more control, more punishment. They want all the credit when things go ‘right’ and then blame all the bloody feckless parents when things go ‘wrong’. Not for one moment does it occur to them that the constant badgering, controlling, patronising garbage they hand out is in any way implicated in the negative things.

It is clear that the people who are best placed to ensure that their children are well cared for and loved are parents. And the people best able to build happy lives for children are those children themselves. Yes, people get trapped in shit lives and problems – many of them caused by government policies. If they want to help families then how about some decent affordable housing and a health service that isn’t being slowly bled to death? How about a minimum wage that is somewhere approaching a realistic living wage. How about you stop pouring our money into weapons to kill other people’s children. Stop it with all the ‘help’ that people didn’t ask for and don’t want – like that fantastic boost to family life, the jailing of parents whose children won’t go to school. Rather than the baby curriculum for children under three how about you actually make sure that all midwives and (yes, I know this is laughable) doctors have proper training on breastfeeding. Why not actually fulfil your obligations by providing the services we pay for in our taxes and keep your controlling paws off our freedoms?

When I was young, in the 1980s, the Tories did shitty things. And we knew they were shitty, and they knew they were shitty. They said, ‘we don’t care if people are losing their jobs and whole communities are dying’ and ‘we have no regard for the people sleeping in the gutter’. It was nice and clear. What this lot have done is to never once admit that they are heartless bastards. They do everything because it is honourable and noble – even making war. They can take the death of a child at the hands of people who were supposed to be caring for her, and who died because the systems that had the power to save her were under-funded and confused, and use it to push their own agenda of ‘help’. What they think will ‘help’ is to monitor everyone, to make sure we all pursue their one ‘common sense’ definition of a healthy, safe, achieving, contributing child.

Well, pardon me while I exercise some freedom of thought here.

Here’s a nice John Holt quote that I read some time ago and seems to be ever more pertinent in this country.

“The nightmare state of the future, if it comes, and it is well on its way, will be above all a tyranny of ‘professional helpers’, with an unlimited right and power to do to us or make us do whatever they (or someone) considers to be for our own good.” (John Holt, 1974)

Yep, 1974. It is from ‘Escape from Childhood’, which is an amazing and refreshing antidote to the current dominant model of what constitutes a healthy childhood.

The last ten years in this country have seemed to me to be the triumph of the process of ‘gilding the shit’. Substance has been thrown away and presentation is all. It really doesn’t matter if the schools are full of sad kids and depressed teachers – with violence at every turn, or the hospitals full of filth and desperately over -worked staff, because there is always a shiny new programme or initiative that is being poured over the whole stinking mess and buffed up to a sheen. There will be a new logo, and lots of expensive consultants can make a packet, and everyone can ‘get on board’. And then, lo and behold, it will turn out to mean nothing.

I am not about to just give away my children’s freedoms. We have seen the world of the National Curriculum and the SATS, we have tried to be ‘good’ parents, helping you shine up the shit. But we are not going back to that. I won’t trot my kids through anyone else’s curriculum – no way. The last few years have made me realise that the freedom we have is like fine wine for free. Our children just bubble, so busy doing and being. They are clever, clever, clever. They see through it all, they ask more about everything, they are so sure that they can do anything, go anywhere, be anything. They make up their own definitions of themselves and they won’t accept other people’s. I won’t label them up as ‘level three’ – nonsense, ridiculous, forget it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Vikings Day


Today the kids and I decided to spend a day doing Viking related activities. I’m a bit tired to go into details but here’s a list of what we did.

The kids dressed as Vikings. Pearlie got fed up trying to fashion a long dress style of costume so she decided to go with more practical battling gear. One of the things we read about the Vikings is that women did fight in battle and to defend their homes.

We took the names Ragnar (L), Thora (P) and Ingrid (me).

We worked together to make a Viking quiz book. This was a really good thing to do. We took it in turns to contribute questions and Pearlie started typing it up on the computer. I’ve taken that on as her typing speed meant that she got tired out before the end.

Pearlie performed the story of Wolf Mountain to Leo and me. She made cardboard scenery, read aloud the story from ‘The Saga of Eric the Viking’, and acted out the events with a selection of cuddly creatures. It was great and included make up for a cat playing the part of a wolf, a shower of real gravel for a rock fall, and several nice comic touches, not least the fact that the Vikings were acted by cuddly seals.

Leo and I used dipping pens to be a couple of monks making some notes after a Viking raid. These notes had a mathematical theme – eg. If the Vikings have stolen half of our 12 chalices how any do we have left?

Leo then did more drawing with his dipping pen, saying that he was a monk working as they used to in those days.

Pearlie and Leo played chess, which we believe Viking people would have played.

We ate home made Viking oatcakes, cheese and apples for our lunch. I suspect that Viking cheese was probably more like cottage cheese, but we ate cheddar! The oatcakes were nice – the kids said they were like chapattis.

We played a little Viking themed game with counters and a die. This was on the back of one of the library books we have been reading. Leo won and got the honour of marrying a farmer and settling in Greenland!

We mucked out our pig – in this case a guinea pig.

I mopped the kitchen floor using not very authentic products, but I reckon the Vikings did have to clean their homes.

We talked LOADS.

In the evening we were all Vikinged out and the kids took it in turns to play on Club Penguin. This is a new discovery for our kids (lots of the local HE kids play there) and it looks like becoming a craze.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fireworks, fish and foul play

Thursday

Thursdays now involve me delivering and receiving children turn and turn about throughout the day. In fact, there’s so much of it that I’ve only now realised I completely forgot to take Pearlie to her Woodcraft group in the evening! Mustn’t do that next week. Anyway, I did manage to get her to Kids Club in the morning (where they designed packaging and advertising posters for their newly invented chocolate bars), then dropped Leo off at the grandmothers’ for a happy day of Edge Chronicles related play. I had an hour or so to do some shopping and grab a bite to eat, then picked Pearlie up for a couple of hours of just her and me time at home. She had a good drumming practice then we played a game with her Doctor Who Battles in Time cards. Before we knew it, Leo was brought home and exchanged for Pearlie, who went up to school for yoga with cousin S. She was collected from there and returned to me by one of our local aunts, and the rest of the evening is a total blur.

Friday

Allie took the kids to the big drop in HE group, where they did some capoeira with a visiting teacher, and P. did some knitting with her friend I. They joined a small group of people who moved on from there to our local park, to make the most of the winter sunshine we’ve been having this week.

Saturday

It was a working weekend for Allie, and she left the rest of us in our pyjamas at 11. 30 both days. Nice to have the opportunity to slob about a bit, after all the commitments we have to get up for in the week. Slobbing about was positively encouraged this weekend by it being Poirot weekend on ITV3, and we’ve been making the most of our new living room to enjoy it. The kids and I did go out yesterday afternoon to buy a cosy rug and some fabric to cover the opening to an unattractive storage space in that room. We made it home just in time to go out again to a lovely neighbourhood fireworks party on the field behind the grandmothers’ house, where we met Allie, hotfoot from her day at work. All the people in the row of houses had contributed fireworks and food, and it was all very friendly. All our local cousins, aunts and uncles were there, and the kids had a great time.

Sunday

More Poirot and slobbing about today, and another evening outing for me and the kids, with cousins S. and D. and their parents, to the seafront to see an extremely low tide. We walked on the sand where there is usually water,

saw an extraordinary number of dead fish washed up on the beach (discarded from a fishing boat, perhaps?),

got much closer to the wreckage of the West Pier than we have ever been before, and witnessed a stunning sunset.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Spooks, sofa, and seal saga

This week’s highlights:

Woodcraft camp

Pearlie coped admirably with being away from home for two nights, and enjoyed the activities at the camp. These included a short walk to some nearby woods (via fields with actual cows in), decorating masks and story sticks, making and icing cakes, and telling spooky stories round the camp fire. They were very lucky with the weather and the forecast day of rain never materialised. She was very brave to do it, I thought, and I was proud of how well she handled it.

Halloween

All three of our Monday groups marked Halloween. Pearlie and her friends put on a suitably surreal show at Kids’ Club – I managed to get away from work for an hour to watch it – and played some nice games, including pumpkin bowling. Meanwhile Allie and Leo were carving pumpkin lanterns and making pumpkin soup at MMs. Leo designed a beautiful cat-like face for his pumpkin, and did lots of the scooping out and punching holes work too.

While Leo and I were at his Woodcraft Folk Halloween party in the evening, Pearlie carved a lovely face in her own pumpkin – entirely unaided. The party was pretty wild, and included apple bobbing, some lovely glittery bats and paper plate masks, lots of yummy food, some uproarious games, and a tour de force by one of the parents as a terrifying witch, with a box of gruesome items (severed fingers and the like).

After all that, I was a bit Halloweened out by the night itself, but we put on our costumes again and set off for a lucrative evening of trick or treating, with a couple of local cousins and a friend. All the local kids were out, and we had to do two emergency runs to the shop for more sweets before the evening was over.

New furniture

Our new living room is finally operational, after a sofa and two chairs arrived yesterday. We spent yesterday evening and this afternoon assembling them. Pearl and Leo worked hard on the second chair and both scored top marks in their first lesson in assembling flat pack furniture – surely an essential life skill!

Etcetera

The last few days have also included:
  • The birthday party of P’s now 11 year old friend, I. They watched a film and P. bonded with one of their cats.
  • Capoeira, only for Leo this week as Pearlie was at aforementioned party
  • Preparations for a future performance of part of the Saga of Eric the Viking as a puppet show, starring Pearlie’s cuddly seals