Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008


now i am sort of into werewolves. many people out there know what they are, and if YOU don't, google werewolves, and read about them. if you like that, go to the library, and look for them. i reccomend ' the undead ' . stay off page 91 , though.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Farewell from the Greenhouse

After more than three and a half years on this blog, we have been feeling it's time for a change. As the children get older, it feels more and more strange to be blogging about them. If they want to blog what they're up to then they both have blogs of their own.

We have decided to set up a new blog for airing opinions and it is likely that this will have a home ed slant. So, do join us at Reflections in the Greenhouse.

Thanks to all for reading over the years!

Monday, August 25, 2008

We got our girl back

and we have been a tad busy since. We went to two different parties yesterday and didn’t get home from the second until nearly midnight. The kids slept in this morning and we haven’t managed to make it further than the corner shop. I have just made some cheese scones for tea and I anticipate a quiet evening. We have managed to unpack P’s bags and I helped her tidy her room. Leo and I have done a bit of work on reading music. He has been playing from memory so far. We also dug out an old video of a BBC adaptation of Five Children and It, which was lovely.

Pearlie had a great time at camp. She got her Folk name, which is just for others in the Folk to know, apparently. She did kayaking, played a wide game, stayed up very late and so on. She also did various craft things and made a lovely clay face. I am so impressed with the way she looks after herself at camp (though she has a lovely group leader there too). She set up a line to dry her stuff (though the rain foiled that!) and told us she’d worn her Dani-made wool socks for campfire times, to keep her feet warm. It is a lovely feeling to see her growing up and having such fun without us. But it’s still wonderful to have her home!

Friday was our last day without P and I took Leo for a brief swim at the local pool. I’m not that much fun for playing with in the pool. I can’t even dive to the bottom. I blame this on my own, which is very buoyant... But Leo swam some lengths with me - using his own special stroke. He moves each limb in turn and is quite uninterested in learning a more orthodox stroke.

Dani is knitting Pearlie a beautiful rainbow cardigan. P is very much into rainbow things at the moment – and colour generally. She made a gorgeous tie-dye t-shirt at camp.

Right, we have a nice week ahead. Dani will be taking the kids on a day trip to visit cousins D and S, who are staying at a fairly local caravan park. Pearlie has a one day girls’ football day to go to as well. I am hoping to get a bit of writing time – editing some stories to submit to competitions. Leo has suddenly become very fond of moths (a creature I am a bit silly about!) and is reading books, printing pictures off the internet and seeking live specimens around the house. I will not shudder...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What have we been up to this week?

On Monday Leo went across town to play at a friend’s house and had a fine time. I went to work for a few hours and then on to my writing group. Dani bought some lovely buttons for a creation.

Tuesday was busy. Dani was at work all day. I took Leo into town where his writing group was holding a workshop at an art gallery. The children were encouraged to lie underneath the beautiful exhibit and then write something. Leo wrote a lovely piece but he doesn’t want me to blog it. We had a quick lunch at Spud-u-Like where Leo was appalled at the suggested “Kids’ Meal” – “Half a potato!” – and devoured a spud with cottage cheese. Then he went to Squeezebox for a band session and an individual lesson. We went to the park for a play afterwards. Leo played with a little posse of kids who are a few years younger than him.

On Wednesday Leo and I did some of a maths book we’ve had in the drawer this year. We haven’t done much of it but it’s all much easier for him than it was six months ago. That magic thing called growing up, I guess. I went to work for the afternoon and Dani and Leo went out to ride their bikes for a bit. But the weather was unreliable, as it has been all week.

Today we all (me, D and Leo) went to Lewes where there was a tour of an archaeological dig that is happening near the library. They had some finds on display and we got to see the site. We all thought it was good. I learned how they decide where to dig when they are looking at the stripped site. I had no idea really – just thought they dug a hopeful hole! Then we headed back to Brighton for some cake and bought a board game we really can’t afford but have been wondering about for years! We’re saving it for when Pearlie gets home.

Pearlie is having a fine time. It is very strange here without her but as long as she’s having fun then that’s what matters.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


P is off at Woodcraft camp, so we’re just three this week.

I’m sure I’m missing all sorts of stuff that’s been happening here, so let’s see if I can do a catch-up.

Leo is mostly making field guides to faerie creatures. I can’t post you any pictures owing to the unfortunate departure of the camera. They are very lovely. He works on them for days, if not weeks, at a time and they include many pictures. He draws the pictures with pencil or thin black pen and then paints in the colour using his sketchers pocket box. This little paint box was a present for his seventh birthday, from wise friends. We can buy little colour blocks to replace as they get used up. Because they are real paints, as opposed to kiddy paints, the colours are very rich and they blend well. Yesterday he got a reservation notification from the library so we rushed down to pick up The Care and Feeding of Sprites, which has inspired a whole new burst of art. He also presses flowers and includes them in the field guides, as examples of sprite clothing, and so on.

Pearlie has been spending a lot of time pottering about. She met a friend to go shopping in town and got herself a new skirt and hair band. She went to a one day event at the museum, on pom pom and tassle making. I think this was quite good fun, if not exactly exciting! They were a bit reluctant to let her go at the end. I had, rather stupidly, not thought to give her a note telling the people that she was fine to leave by herself. It is rather silly really as she is eleven and would have to travel across town if she were to go to secondary school. She sorted out nearly all of her packing for camp and managed the inevitable wobbles very well. One of her main pre-occupations at the mo is humour, as well as current affairs. She watches Mock the Week, often several times, so she can get all the jokes and references. I was amused the other day when P wanted to check the meaning of satire with us. We were slightly questioning of her definition and so I checked what our Collins dictionary had to say. Its definition matched hers far better than ours... She also watches a lot of videos on YouTube.

We all enjoyed having cousin D around for a week and we managed to fit in some park trips where P, L and cousin D played involved games in the bushes. Leo and cousin D also made some superhero comics together. At the end of the week we went to see cousin S perform in the show at the end of her drama week. This was over two hours - twenty five pieces - in a hot hall. But it was great and we were very proud of cousin S.

Dani is knitting away on a gift for some people. I cannot say more! She is also paying close attention to the CME consultation – far more than I can bear to. We’ve both completed some funding application for Kids’ Club, so fingers crossed for us please.

I have been watching lots of the Olympics. I know that some people are not doing that as a protest against the Chinese regime. But I can’t really see how that will help... So, I’m indulging myself with women’s diving and so on. You will understand that I do not have an athletic bone in my body and have virtually no interest in all team sports. But I can appreciate spectacle, even if I think it is probably a bad idea to train children up as top athletes from infancy. I have also been writing and pulling up bindweed in the garden. The first of those was great – I got a story finished today. Pulling up bindweed was horrid but necessary as we have neighbours who care about their gardens. We used to garden but seem to have just forgotten that in recent years.

Dani, Leo and I seem to be having a rather gluttonous weekend here. Yesterday I made a veg lasagne – layers of home-made cheese sauce, red lentil, courgette and tomato sauce, and lots of yummy mature cheddar on top. Dani made a spiced apple crumble and custard. This afternoon I made a chocolate sponge cake – to eat while lying on the sofa watching gymnastics.

Leo and Dani went across town to a bike riding park today. They came home tired but happy.

Oh yes, and I should mention that one side-effect of watching the Olympics has been an increased interest, on Leo’s part, in countries, continents and world affairs. I made a flippant remark that a gymnast from North Korea was possibly looking terrified because her family’s welfare might depend on her performance. This led to conversation about repressive regimes. Leo spent some time with the globe this morning, finding the locations of participating countries.

Oh yes, and a bit about books. We have been reading Leo more books from the children’s classics set he owns. He and Dani had a go at the Prisoner of Zenda, which was quite hard going. I am reading him The Phoenix and the Carpet. This led to a conversation about racism the other night. I loved reading Pearlie The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild, which was mine when I was about her age. She and Dani are now reading Tolpuddle Boy, which P says is a bit patronising. The kids are reading various things to themselves. I think P has taken a Morpurgo away to camp and Leo is rather into Barnaby Grimes. Dani recently finished The Book Thief, as recommended by Girl One. I’m having a pause from the delights of Patrick Gale to read a Carol O’Connell that my mum has leant me.

Right, off to eat more food. P phoned today and I was glad to hear that she was neither cold nor hungry – always my main worries if she is away. Mind you, she had several packs of biscuits and a woolly hat in her luggage, so she should be fine!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Summer busy stuff

This will have to be a quick catchup as *the sun is currently shining* and I want to get children to the park before it decides to rain again.

We’ve been having a busy week here. Having cousin D with us has been lovely and yesterday we did a grand day out with my mum. The party was: Dani, me, my mum, Pearl, Leo , cousin B (8) and cousin D(6). The weather was unreliable so we abandoned the rough plan to go to the wetlands place at Arundel and settled on the Science Museum. It seemed that half the population of the south, plus many tourists from all over the world, had decided on the same!

Travel was fine but perhaps presented particular challenges as we had three small people who are all beyond being grabbed by the hand on the crowded tube, but still perfectly able to distract each other and wander slightly. There was a fair bit of sneaky adult holding of rucksack straps and hoods!

Once we were in the museum, we ate an early lunch and went up to the launchpad. We hadn’t seen this since it had all been expanded and relocated. The children fell on the Big Machine with determination and put in a long session there. Then we all explored and enjoyed magnets and hearing things through our teeth and other such things. There was a minor falling out at one point, during which poor L decided that I had probably abandoned him! I was, in fact, pursuing cousin D through the crowd to a corner where he was being cross. It was so busy that the noise levels alone made it quite a challenging environment. My mum hadn’t been to the Science Museum for about thirty years, so she was rather stunned by all the exciting stuff to do.

After the boys had played various games in the In Future gallery (on those big table things...) and Pearlie had mislaid herself in Marine Engineering, we took a break for a cup of tea and other drinks. Then Dani and Pearl went off for some quiet time together looking at the maths bit and then wandering off to a bookshop, while my mum and I (and my brother who had appeared after work) went to the IMAX with the boys, to see a 3D movie about prehistoric sea creatures. The boys loved it and my mum coped admirably with the strange visual experience. Having had one cataract done and then some treatment for post-op swelling, she is in a rather strange state at the mo. It’s looking like the other eye will be treated by Christmas, which should be good.

After a quick stop off with pocket money at the gift shop, we headed for Victoria. Pearlie in the lead and she managed to grab us eight free seats on the train, so we got to sit, which was a relief. The children got hysterical with laughter while playing, “I went to the shops...” and everyone finished off the remains of the picnic food. We found a bus back to our part of town and got in at about 7.30pm. That was quite a long day for everyone as we’d set off at 9am, so perhaps it’s no surprise that we’re tired today. I had to wake Leo before cousin D arrived and it took a lot!

I seem to have a bit of a cold, which is irritating. I feel like I could sleep all day. Instead, I have two boys this morning and then we’re off to see cousin S (10) perform in her end of week show. She’s been in a drama workshop all week. Reaching for the painkillers to cut through the sinus headache...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Youtube memories

Blimey, Youtube is terrible for eating time, isn't it? Here is a song that I listened to a great deal in 1991 - the year that D and I count as the start of our relationship. Just the look of the band makes me realise that was a LONG time ago!

Right, washing up...

Monday, August 11, 2008


We had a full-on trip to our beach hut yesterday with five kids (all the Brighton cousins), three adults and big waves. Sadly, I seem to have lost the camera... It is either in the beach hut, or on the beach. Well, actually, of course, it isn’t on the beach now as the tide will have taken it. In which case it could be anywhere between here and France, I guess.

The beach was wonderfully wild. The kids didn’t really paddle as much as run shrieking from the waves. Pearlie would have liked to swim but she felt she needed an adult to go in with her and none of us had swimming gear. I do love to swim in the sea but only on hot days and it certainly wasn’t hot. The air was quite chilly and it rained a bit here and there.

After the kids were all blasted enough by the wind we went along to the play area and paddling pool, where they played sardines and other games. We huddled and drank tea and so on. We kept thinking that it would soon be time to go but actually stayed about five hours or so. Two buses home and the kids were really quite over-excited and tired by then...

We’re entertaining cousin D (6) this week. He’s with us instead of going to a summer playscheme. Somehow I feel the need to call the children and offer to set out all the painting materials.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lovely London

We had a great day out in London today, just the four of us. The day got off to a wobbly start as Leo was having something of a footwear crisis but we all perked up once we got on the train.

We started with a little stroll along the South bank

to the Hayward Gallery where we saw this wonderful crocheted coral reef.

It was more than a little overwhelming to read about the plastic rubbish patch in the North Pacific. I felt like I was surrounded by plastic for the rest of the day.

Then we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We’d never really been there before and I think we have probably been wise to wait until people were a bit older. It certainly isn’t jammed full of buttons to press and such like, but both the kids are now of an age to really enjoy looking at beautiful things and reading the info. Leo was in his element, sketching things in a little note book and glorying in all the treasure. He told me he could happily live there! He liked the sacred silver best and we spent quite a while looking at reliquaries and so on. Pearlie mostly explored on her own and was very taken with the jewellery gallery. Leo bought himself a ring with ‘an emerald’ in it and Pearlie bought some bright pink boot laces. We spent a hideous amount on some snacks and drinks but enjoyed them in the garden, where the sun had finally come out.

We travelled home on a rather crowded commuter train and ate cheese on toast when we got in. A good day.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Can't Read, Can't Write

I’ve already done a blog post on Can’t Read, Can’t Write, which got too rambly to put out in the world. So, after watching the last part yesterday evening, I’m having another go.

First, I need a mini-rant on the fact that the ‘reality format’ has invaded just about every type of programme. Not only is it virtually impossible to find any decent drama on the TV, but there are also hardly any documentaries. Every topic deemed worthy of enquiry has to be explored through a group of ‘real people’ on ’a journey’, which we follow without this having the slightest impact on their behaviour, of course... So, we get lots of engineered little showdowns and unnecessary intrusions into the lives of the participants. I felt this particularly keenly with this series. I also felt that the ‘students’ were expected to reveal far more than the ‘teacher’. We didn’t follow him home to watch him have a row with his mum, did we?

While the programme did have some interesting moments, did anyone else want to scream when it was announced that the participants would all be sitting exams? What a lack of imagination! There was nothing to stop that teacher suggesting a performance or an anthology – something that everyone could have contributed to in their own way. They could have chosen something to bring the participants together, to celebrate all they had achieved. Instead, the programme went with tense exam room and sorting the sheep from the goats – yet again. I could have cheered when Linda refused to do the exams or come to the award ceremony. At least they didn’t get everyone playing the game.

I felt this series was a real missed opportunity to actually look, in some depth, at different learning styles or explore techniques that have worked for people with dyslexia. Yes, some people made incredible progress and the world of the written word opened up for them. But, I wanted the details – and I wasn’t going to get them from this. Ho hum.

What did other people make of this programme? Come on people, it's getting lonely here at Greenhouse with no comments...

Monday, August 04, 2008

We heart kd

Dani and I went to see kd Lang last night. We had a wonderful time. As Dani said, if you only get to go out for the evening a few times a year, that was certainly the right choice. She sang a range of her stuff (and a couple of other people’s – including Hallelujah (Hallelujah!) - to a wildly appreciate crowd. It was a fairly mixed crowd too, in terms of ages and sexuality, though not too many youngsters. It was a shock to realise that the fond memories I have of seeing her in 1992/3 were so very long ago.

My mum was there too, while her partner babysat for us. Two of my mum’s friends were there, who walked home with her while D and I wandered up our hill, chatting. I find it amazing that someone’s voice can make all the hairs on my arms and legs stand on end. How?? We talked about music and humanity and sensuality. Then we talked a bit about religion and how perhaps it is no surprise if religions are sometimes anxious or disapproving about certain (sometimes virtually all) music when it has such power. In my atheist day dreams of heaven I’ve always imagined it as a nest of fluffy white clouds where I’d get to roll about naked and angelic versions of my favourite singers would drift by on big feathery wings to croon to me. No offence to anyone for whom such things are more real – this is just a non-believer story telling.

Anyway, apart from our lovely evening out, we’ve been pottering about. Pride was huge but certainly dented, in numbers and spirit, by the weather. Yesterday we were in town eating bagels in a window, watching rather subdued Pride tourists traipsing around the shops trying to have fun in the chilly wind and occasional showers. We were in town so the kids could browse around and we could get a new ironing board cover. I am putting off trying to fit it as, in my experience, they are horrid things when free from the packet and tend to develop lumps and pucker up and otherwise fail to be a flat surface. The kids bought bits and bobs. Pearlie’s favourite shop is currently Paper Chase, which is rather lovely. Leo likes to spend a lot of time in bookshops so that’s no hardship either. But, we were all a bit tired and fed up with the chilly wind. Today looks beautiful but we have a mum change-over at lunchtime and a supermarket shop arriving this morning, so we’re indoors.

While we were out last night, the kids were creating – Leo was painting and Pearlie making bracelets – and playing story consequences with the babysitting grandmother. I’ve got to go and read the stories now and then I think we’ll play some board games and other such relaxing stuff.

Friday, August 01, 2008

We are still here

By Dani

I was just going to post a quick update yesterday lunchtime, but I discovered that our blog had been locked by Blogger's spam detection robots!

Anyway, now that is sorted out, our news is not hugely exciting. Groups have generally stopped, but work hasn't, so there has been more aimless/productive time in the house and slightly less busy rushing to get to the next thing.

Leo is back in the grip of the Spiderwick Chronicles, and has been spending a lot of time drawing and painting and otherwise creating. He made a balsa wood sword the other day and half painted it. He is also working on a new comic series, called 'The Stick Men'. He is excited at the prospect of visiting a real archaeological dig later in the month.

Pearlie is very pleased to have Zoombinis back, and has been enjoying that every couple of days. She watches Mock the Week on i-player, takes herself off to the park or local shops when she feels like it, and does secret things in her room. She is a bit out of sorts because routines have changed, and we are all a bit unsure how things will shake down in September, as there are several new options on the horizon for her in particular. She is looking forward to Woodcraft Folk camp in a couple of weeks, and a girls football day organised by the local council.

We have been watching Tenko on DVDs from ebay, but very cross that one of the set of two we bought didn't work! Also knitting, writing, drafting fundraising applications, going to meetings, etc.

That's all I had time for in my lunch hour. We went to Pride today, and are all exhausted now. It rained on the parade, so we didn't take any photos. It's all got a bit too big and commercial to be actually enjoyable, but we like to show our faces all the same. We're thinking next year we might join the Amnesty International contingent, as they seem to be the only people actually saying something.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Talk, talk, swimming and quiz

Saturday was a beautiful, hot day here. I went to work, where it was a quiet afternoon, probably because it was such a lovely day. But I was able to be useful to an overseas student. I told him something he could have benefited from a couple of years ago, at the start if his course, but there we go! I was then able to help with a general enquiry about his accommodation and employment plans for the coming year. But mostly I spent my time finishing things off as I start my off-contract weeks as of today. Mind you, as we have something special happening at work at the mo, I am expecting to go in and do a bit of work over August.

I met Dani and the kids over at the grandmothers’ house, where they were having a joint barbecue with the four next door houses. This was a lovely relaxed affair with bubble making for the kids, swingball and a man who did magic tricks with string. We walked home in the warm evening air.

This morning we seemed to cover rather a lot of major topics in general chat – adoption, the nutrition of babies, race, abortion, contraception – and thanks to “Mock the Week”, orgies... Then we went to a home ed swimming session, which Dani had booked at our local pool. This worked out very well – we all swam and then some of us went to the park. The kids played in the sun and adults chatted.

This evening I cooked a veg heavy dinner – steamed broccoli and carrots, peas and green beans, sweetcorn and roast potatoes – and quorn sausages or quiche. Then we did a family quiz. It was Pearlie’s idea to do this as a Sunday evening thing for a while. Today it was my turn to compose the quiz and the other three had to answer. They all did very well. Leo surprised me by knowing this:
“If you are anaemic, which mineral are you lacking?”
Pearlie knew lots of stuff – the boiling point of water in degrees Celsius, the capital of Belgium, the number of degrees in the largest interior angle of a right-angled triangle, that water conducts electricity... No wonder she likes quizzes! Dani let herself down by forgetting the name of Paddington’s aunt Lucy.

Friday, July 25, 2008


It’s been a good few days here. As I was stuffing clean, dry sleeping bags back into stuff sacks this afternoon, I realised that I am very happy that we will be at home for the next few months. Pearlie has a couple of camps coming up, one with Woodcraft and one with other home edders, but the rest of us are settled down here. Pride is on the horizon, along with our night out to see kd lang. There’s time for some day trips to the beach hut and possibly a couple further afield. But several days like the last few would suit me fine too.

On Wednesday, Dani was at work in the morning and I dropped the kids off with her at lunchtime. They went off to the lagoon for a friend’s birthday party, which was great fun, apparently. I went to work for the afternoon.

Dani and the kids went down to the main library in the morning to swap some books. The kids are doing the summer reading thing that they usually do. I got a couple of hours to work on a new story, which I relished. Pearlie went off to her games group in the afternoon. Everyone had finished designing and making their games and it was time to play them. Leo and Dani hung out at home. Leo has bought the DVD of the Spiderwick Chronicles so he’s watching that a lot.

Today, Dani was at work all day and the kids and I started the day with a quick trip to a branch library to return a game and a jigsaw. I was starting to feel scolded by the Boggle, staring at me from the shelf! I was feeling indulgent, so made three different lunches – eggy bread, pasta and salad. Then we had a very content afternoon doing our own things. Pearlie did a little bit of writing in French, reading her Roman Mysteries book, chalking on the pavement and playing on her scooter. Leo watched his movie again and then set to work on a new field guide. He is using watercolours and a dipping pen and ink – you should see his hands... He also popped outside to chalk a safe circle around the house. As we live in a terrace, he had to content himself with a line! I did some laundry, washed up over and over again and made a banana cake. I also found time to read 160 pages of a book of short stories I’d picked up at the library. I’ve never read anything by the author before but I really like his stories – a bit dark and twisted. I also managed to have a little snooze on the sofa, while P trundled up and down the street on wheels and Leo painted at the kitchen table.


My way to work

It was a lovely day yesterday, so I thought I'd photograph my journey to work.

This is the smelly corner at the bus stop. People wee here. People smoke here. Low point of journey.

I don't usually have long to wait for one of these.

I often get off a stop or two early to walk some of this. There's a horrid A road on the other side of the bushes, but I try to tune it out.

I cross these tracks. I love this station. It is originally from the 1860s but was re-built in the 1890s. It has a Victorian post box set in the wall and an old signal room with tea towels drying on the levers.

I often meet rabbits about here.

This is the field where they are planning to build a football stadium. Don't ask...

This is the view from my office window.

The view from upstairs in the library. Excellent for day dreaming.

Aaaah! Smell the knowledge... Lots of my work is based on the use of electronic resources now, of course, but you can't beat a row of books, or, in this case, journals...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Countryside adventures, park and Tenko

On Monday, Dani and the kids set off to an event at The Sussex Wildlife Trust headquarters organised by a fellow home edder. They got two buses out into the country and Dani got time to chat with other adults while the kids were taken off by the workers to do things like pond dipping. It sounds like it was a great place. Leo was chatting to me in the bath that night about the lava of the Caddis Fly, which makes itself a little portable case out of shells and stones. They also saw frogs, toads, newts and fish. In the afternoon they were shown how to make things with nettles and elder. Leo made a piece of nettle string to adorn his hat and Pearlie made a nettle and elder bracelet. They were exhausted that night as it was another busy day after the hectic weekend. I was no less tired after a morning of unpacking and sorting and an afternoon at work.

Yesterday, the kids' Squeezebox session was cancelled, so we got a morning at home. I spent this trying to catch up on some more tidying and washing. Pearlie is happily engrossed in the new Roman Mysteries book and Leo was working on a long story he started at his writing group. I did a very stupid thing and brought in one of the recycling boxes to clean in the hallway. People chuck things in our boxes if we leave them out and someone had kindly donated a beer bottle that had dribbled dregs all over the place. I was moving very fast and plonked the box on the carpet before filling it up with hot water and Flash. It was only when I picked it up that I realised that it has four, quite large, holes in the bottom! So, the hallway carpet got a soaking in hot soapy water and I realised I’d get more done if I slowed down a bit...

In the afternoon we went up to the park, where the kids disappeared for four hours with friends and I drank tea and chatted with other parents. Two exciting things happened which were reported to me by a breathless Pearlie. First, she saw a heron on the park pond. Second she and friends saw some kids smashing up a bass guitar. This was very dramatic and involved hurling it out of trees, and so on. Most bizarre... A sort of rock star, hotel bedroom moment, in the local park!

Dani’s knitting group came round in the evening and I watched Bonekickers with the kids. They are really enjoying this but I think it is rather *cough* far-fetched and silly! Dani and I stayed up too late once the knitters had gone, watching Tenko. We got another video cheap on Ebay. I am struck by how slow moving it seems, when compared to modern tv programmes. There are also no whizzing camera shots or flashbacks. It’s rather like watching a play, a genuine ensemble piece too, where the story unfolds and you’re gripped by that. The acting is a bit patchy but there are some excellent performances, especially Stephanie Cole as the doctor. I’m loving seeing it again. It is far more interesting to watch than pretty much anything I see on tv today. It is thought provoking too. Dani and I ended the day looking at our Schofield and Sims history timeline poster, trying to understand why there were Dutch prisoners as well as British ones.

Right, got to go and pack a bag for the kids and Dani to use this afternoon. They’re off across town to an outdoor party. I’ve got to go to work.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tolpuddle and home again

On Friday we set off for the Tolpuddle Festival and we got back yesterday (Sunday) evening. The kids and Dani were up early this morning to go to a nature event out in mid-Sussex and I’m contemplating the laundry heap, which is out-of-hand, and planning to unpack and check all the camping gear. This is probably why I’m blogging!

The Tolpuddle event was quite a journey for us. The camping field was on a slope, which meant we didn’t get very good sleep. On the second night I woke to find every muscle in my back screaming – probably trying to stop me falling, which we did each night, into a grumpy heap at the bottom of the tent. Speaking of the tent, I am in love with our Vango Force Ten. It is true that it is rather snug, and I suspect that in a year or two the kids may start to spill out into pop-up tents, but the sheer quality and orangeness of our family tent is so comforting. Every bit of it is well stitched, thick and soft. Most modern tents seem to be made of super-light material which, though it obviously has its advantages, never looks very reliable. Peg it too tight or slide a pole a bit wonky and stitching splits. Our Force Ten was certainly expensive (though we did get a good deal - more than a hundred off the price quoted on the vango site) but it feels like the tents of my childhood, the sort you bought once and kept for a generation.

It was good to see family at Tolpuddle. We travelled with my brother J and his son D, who were snug in their little two person tent. It certainly helped to travel together, especially yesterday when we ended up on a very over-crowded train. This was ok, as we had managed to get everyone seated, but then they announced that only the front five carriages would open at Clapham Junction, so we had to walk through packed train with kids and hefty backpacks. I must say that the kids were brilliant. Pearlie carried all her own stuff – sleeping bag and mat included. Leo carried his sleeping back and pjs etc. Little cousin D remained stoical – even when feeling sick – and we held it all together.

It was also great to see K and N with cousins S and G, from Leicestershire. They’ve been to Tolpuddle for ever and so were able to give us tips, like getting up early enough for cooked breakfasts provided by the local WI, who stand in a row with camping cookers and dole out fried eggs.

Sadly, Pearlie cut her foot on the Sunday morning. This was the most bizarre accident really. She was walking along, carrying toast, with her sandals undone. There was a pencil lying on the grass which she somehow flipped up under her foot and then stood down on. The tip was quite blunt but the pressure enough to split the sole of her foot. She was very brave and is determined that it will not stop her. She’s gone off today hobbling and declaring,

“it only hurts when I stand on it.”

It is quite clean and covered but I hope it heals ok. Injuries on feet are always a bit worrying, aren’t they?

When we got in last night, P eager to get her sore foot sorted with clean plaster, Leo suddenly had one of the sudden, nauseous (migraine like) headaches he’s had before. This seemed to resolve with throwing up, as it has before. But after four hours on hot trains and two nights with little sleep, we were all struggling to cope. I can’t really believe they were still keen to get up early for this event today. I hope they’re all ok and don’t just dissolve into a little heap somewhere.

On the Saturday evening, at Tolpuddle, Mark Steel performed. He was very funny. Leo took the opportunity to veg out on my lap during the performance but Pearlie listened avidly and seemed to really enjoy it. He was tormented by kids with whistles, which I found very amusing.

On the Sunday there was a short procession, with banners, down to the Methodist chapel in the village. This included lots of conversation with P, who was surrounded by plenty of information about a range of isms. She is very interested in this stuff at the moment and was able to quiz a young man wrapped in a Communist Party flag. I only got a bit irritated at one point when the kids were picking up free stickers from Class War. I didn’t mind the swearing but insisted they put back the ‘mug a yuppie’ stickers, complete with man covered in blood. They did this with some “yes, er, YUK” type comments when it was pointed out to them. The sheer volume of freebie stuff available meant that they got a bit crazed with acquisition. I found this very hard to deal with. It seems to me that the mass of plastic tat has no place in the legacy of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. I can’t help but feel that Trade Unions with so much money to burn on rubbish should just lower their subs, or donate their bounty to organisations in parts of the world where people are still labouring for poverty wages. At demos and such when I was a kid you just got leaflets, by the hundred, not free Frisbees and sunglasses...

Leo wasn’t that interested in the Tolpuddle Martyrs themselves, but P came to the museum with me and Dani and we all enjoyed that. I was also quite happy to enjoy so many free apples from the NUT stall (a rather useful freebie if you must have them) and smirk a little to myself ;-)

I have to say that I struggled with portaloos. They are the most vile things, aren’t they? I can’t help but wonder if screened holes in the ground wouldn’t be less unpleasant to use. Living with them for a weekend made me appreciate the luxury of the decent toilets and showers at Hesfes. I was very glad of a little bottle of hand sanitiser that we had with us, as it wasn’t always possible to wash hands after using the portaloos.

Right, washing machine has stopped and I have procrastinated enough. To work!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Without Canada Clauses

This week, I have been thinking rather a lot about my maternal grandmother. She lived in our family home when I was a small child and my few memories of her centre around how different she was to the other adults. This difference was the result of a massive stroke that had paralysed one side of her body and badly damaged her power of speech. The stroke had happened when I was a baby and my mum worked hard to care for her mother and her own four children. My mum fought for speech therapy and helped her mum re-learn to read. My grandmother had extremely short-sight which degenerated in her final years and she was registered blind by the time she died – when I was four. She was only sixty-seven when she died – of a heart attack in her own bed, in the back bedroom of our house.

Nearly all the family tales of this grandmother have a laugh in them – whether they are funny or not. She was a heavy smoker to the end, insisting on wedging her fag between the fingers of her paralysed hand and burning holes in the chair arms. She’d go the local paper shop, where she was well known and my mum had briefed the shopkeeper not to just hand over the cigarettes but to get her to attempt to ask for them. One of her best attempts at Players Number Six, or perhaps just cigarettes, was “blue cabbages”. She declared the weather “a bit bailey!” when it was chilly and this was thought to refer to some next-door neighbours of that name who were, indeed, somewhat frosty. There are plenty of other tales that pre-date me – the family walk across the Downs when she fell, climbing under a gate, and got her face in a cowpat or the time she set fire to the living room while my mum was lying upstairs with a new baby. There was no harm done as she, apparently, put it out and got the room re-decorated before my dad was home from work. She was a demon for ‘drawing the fire’ with a bit of paper or cardboard – something my mum taught me as a kid. The trick is to create a draught of air up against the fire but not let the flames catch the paper!

I remember my mum telling me, when I was a teenager, how, as a young woman, my grandmother had had a ‘breakdown’. I guess this was in the early 1920s. Her husband did enough to keep her out of the clutches of the hospitals, or I guess in those days, the asylum. There was even a laugh in that story too, though, as one evening she made a cup of tea for her husband (a promising sign?) but then proceeded to pour it into his ear. I wondered why she’d gone through this time and my mum explained that it was probably partly to do with her upbringing, in the care of Doctor Barnardos.

I always knew my grandmother had been “in Barnardos” but I never thought much about it. This week, I’ve been typing out a few notes that someone in the family got from Doctor Barnardos, some years ago. My mum can’t see the print very well as she’s having some post-op complications after her cataract surgery. Some of these notes have had me rather tearful, alternately wondering how people in such circumstances survived with their humanity intact and feeling so damn lucky to have been born a couple of generations later.

There is a page of facts, based on medical examination at the time of my grandmother’s admission to Barnardos, in 1909. She was admitted with two of her sisters and one of her brothers. She was the youngest, at one year and eleven months. Her mother had died when she was five months old so I guess it is a testament to the care her family managed that she was alive at all – and a fairly respectable 23lbs in weight. Her brother (aged twelve) was vermin bitten with a mouth full of rotten teeth. He was immediately separated from his sisters and soon sent to naval training school in Norfolk.

The page of report that tells the tale of their family’s descent into what is called “dire straits” makes for painful reading. My grandmother was the youngest of eight children and her father had left the navy to work as a labourer. He couldn’t get regular work and her mother earned what she could as a char. She was “never strong”, which is no surprise seeing as she bore eight children in about fifteen years on a poor diet and worked outside the home as well as in it. She died of bronchitis – leaving her husband with eight children to care for and no regular wage coming in. One of the children (a great-aunt of mine, I think) had died already, by the time he handed over the care of his youngest four to Barnardos. This part is the bit that hit me hardest,

“The father is described as a good, hardworking man, and an affectionate father, and it was only his inability to get work that induced him to part with his children.”

The choice was give up his children or watch them all suffer and, possibly, starve. The report makes it clear that they have only just been kept from starving (thanks to help from family, the former mistress of his late wife and a local coffee house keeper) and were on the point of eviction from their home. Thankfully, their father was strong enough to resist the pressure to let the charity send his children overseas and the report reads,

“As the father much objected to emigration the Canadian clause has been struck out of the agreements.”

This was probably the saving of the family, as a family, because the children were never abandoned, in spite of their admission. Their father died but the family (especially the two older sisters who hadn’t been admitted) never really let those children go. They were young (only thirteen and fifteen) when their siblings went away, but there are records, over the years, of their visits to their sisters. Some of those made me want to scream. Here’s one,

“15.12.1914 (more than five years after their admission) Sister (name) asks for a visiting order on Sunday. Informed regret unable to accede to request as visits on Sunday not allowed in accordance with rules.”

Yes, they had to get visiting orders to see their sisters and it is clear that Barnardos would only allow continuing access if they approved of the family members – and only if they played by the rules.

My grandmother spent most her time “boarded out” with foster families. The family in which she and her sisters spent their earlier years was very near here – in Lewes. From what I have read, families had to live in pretty rural areas to be deemed suitable. The mother of that family would send them to the pub to buy jugs of brandy (no doubt funded by Barnardos!) but there wasn’t much food around. The girls used to eat raw veg from gardens and allotments - carefully removing the baby white cauliflowers and re-arranging the leaves. That was another tale told with a laugh in my childhood.

It was only when reading these notes that I realised that, of course, as her sisters grew up they had to leave Barnardos and my grandmother spent nearly four years boarded out on her own. That must have been a lonely time. But she survived. She got out and lived with a sister and met her husband and raised her own children. She knew how to love those children and they loved her back – and her grandchildren when they came along. She made me the most enormous pink, furry rabbit, when she went to the daycentre. She always had Smarties in a pot in her room. She could still play hand sandwiches, even if she was a bit slow at it. She never had to go back in an institution or be a stranger in someone else’s home. She had more rough than smooth but she died where she belonged, thanks to these words on the record sheet, “Agreement, without Canada Clauses, signed by father.”

Monday, July 14, 2008


by Dani

We are both on leave from work this week, but not going away until the weekend, so we’ve got a bit more breathing space than usual.

We all went to town on Saturday, on a quest for Pearlie’s next book group book. One of the last remaining independent bookshops in town came up trumps in the end, after the library, Borders, Waterstones, WH Smiths and Sussex Stationers had all failed.

We ended up doing a lot of walking, encountering massed choirs outside the library, registering our protest at their decision to apply age ranges to their children’s fiction shelves, and acquiring books, computer games, and watermelons on the way.

We were thrilled to discover Leo’s story on display in the window of Waterstones, as one of the local winners of their What’s Your Story competition. If you’re local, do go and have a look – I think there are several other young authors from Little Green Pig featured there as well.

The book group is meeting here tonight, so we spent most of yesterday tidying and cleaning in the children’s bedrooms. Leo’s room in particular had reached bombsite proportions, but is now lovely and tidy, if somewhat overstocked. We bit the bullet and passed on a few old picture books to the family next door, who have a 6 month old baby. Some of the best picture books we had when P and L were little were donations from our neighbours on the other side, so it’s lovely to be able to maintain a tradition there. We also pulled out a bag full of dressing up clothes to donate to our favourite crèche (if they want them).

Allie and I have ruthlessly weeded our clothes in preparation for buying some that are not grey. I now have no t-shirts, but at least there is room in the chest of drawers.

As you may have noticed, we’ve done a bit of tidying up here as well – just fancied a change, really. We think it looks quite clean and fresh now, but we may continue to fiddle around with it – any requests or comments, just let us know!

Other things that have happened include:

  • The kids and I went on a butterfly spotting walk in and around one of our local parks yesterday. We met David Bellamy at the end, as it was part of a city wide initiative to involve local people in a biodiversity survey of butterflies, and he was helping to promote it. The kids, of course, had no idea who he was, but I think they enjoyed the event.
  • Duck Rock are busy working on a new song, and Pearlie has written some lyrics with minimal support from Allie.
  • Leo has been working in a very focused way through the levels of various games on the CBBC website. At first he seemed to find this a very frustrating process, and there was lots of cursing and complaining when things didn’t go his way in the game. But he seems now to have settled into a “try, try again” kind of mindset, and is having quite a lot of success.
  • I helped on the rota at Kids Club on Thursday, and was privileged to witness the whole group cooperating together in a game of crossing a space without letting their feet touch the ground (using some old carpet squares as stepping stones)
  • We finished our respective bed time books and swapped over mums. I’m now reading the Prisoner of Zenda to Leo, and Allie is reading The Growing Summer to Pearlie.
  • Pearlie saw two foxes on our back wall on Friday evening, and managed to photograph them in the gloom.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


OK, so I said I’d blog conversation. Here are a couple of recent examples.

The other night, Pearlie said, “why is there a credit crunch?” One of the main things she learned then is that her mothers are rather ill-informed when it comes to economics! But I did tell her she can always ask her uncle who understands economics properly, in a real, joined up way. But we talked a bit about related things – supply and demand, value, and so on. Here’s a bit that I can remember.

Pearlie: “So, if oil prices are high then countries that produce oil should be doing well, yes?”

Allie: “Erm...”

Pearlie: “But they have oil in Egypt, don’t they?”

Allie: “Yes.”

Pearlie: “So why have there been food riots in Egypt then?”

Allie: “Well, just because some people in a country may be wealthy that doesn’t mean everyone is, does it?”

Pearlie: “No, that’s right. I guess it’s rich people, shareholders, who’d benefit, isn’t it?”

In this kind of conversation, Pearlie gets the opportunity to check things out that she’s read and seen and fit it together. She knows about shareholders mainly from conversation, I think, and food riots from news reports. I have to say that our subscription to First News is money very well spent too. It always gets read and I think that it does a reasonable job at giving background for the news stories that P sees on the tv, and so on.

One day when we were at HESFES, Leo suddenly asked Dani,

“If you’ve got two eyes, how come you only see one image?”

Dani explained the role of the brain in sight and Leo said,

“How can a brain be made? How did the first human brain grow?”

This led on to a discussion about evolution (which Leo knows about from fossils and dinosaurs) and how this process might have happened. Leo wondered if one day a creature who was not herself human gave birth to the first human child. This was just a quick conversation as they walked between the tent and the main marquee.

Tonight, however, Pearlie got a bit of a monologue from me! We were watching a programme about the digital enhancement of photographs in glossy magazines. A young girl was having her breasts slit and lumps of plastic put in. Now, I’m of the opinion that breasts of all shapes and sizes are beautiful and so wish that women could believe that. I burbled on in this vein (as I tend to when I see such things) and then grabbed our poor, unsuspecting daughter and hugged her tight and said,

“Don’t ever do that, will you Pearlie?”

But I think that’s a worry I won’t dwell on as it turns out that P is really hard line and reckons that cosmetic surgery should be banned except in cases of medical need! I can’t think where she gets this tendency towards strong opinions ;-)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Back to the trundle

I think I really benefitted from a quiet weekend as my cold has become just a bit of a husky voice. I love spending aimless time at home and very rarely get to do it. Anyway, today was back to full-on mode. Dani went to work this morning and I was on the rota at Kids’ Club. It was a good session with one new child starting and one old hand leaving. Unfortunately, it was raining so hard that there wasn’t any opportunity for the kids to play outside. I chatted with M (age seven, I think) who told me all about his interest in electronics and very quickly lost me!

After Kids’ Club, Pearlie went over to the grandmothers’ house and I took Leo down to the home ed art session. The kids worked on a big, collaborative picture of a cityscape, I believe. I went off to work.

Dani finished work in time to collect Leo from art and they spent some time at home. Leo made some things from fimo (he’s quite into fimo at the mo), watched tv and pottered in the garden. Dani knitted and made phone calls.

Quick aside – I have been denying that I’d ever seen the film Dani is watching on tv in this room and then, all of a sudden:

Me: Oh, does someone get impaled on a huge pair of scissors at the end?

Dani: I think you have seen it then...

Pearlie popped home from the grandmothers’, just long enough to eat, before she went out again to her book group. Meanwhile, Dani and Leo had a quick visit from cousin D, who had to hang out at our place while his mum got the bus across town to collect his sister.

I got home from work and ate the end of a very yummy risotto that Dani had cooked, then Ocado brought the shopping and Pearlie came home.

Since listening to Alan Thomas at Hesfes, and reading his new book, I’ve been feeling very inspired again about our home ed life. In the book, Thomas quotes lots of parents of children who have learned autonomously (UK terminology) or naturally (Australian terminology) and there was so much there to recognise. It is that very simple thing of feeling validated by a representation of some aspect of your life. Probably the aspect of our lives that I blog the least, but which is possibly the most rich in learning terms (for us all) is conversation. What I love most is the way that conversation just bubbles up and how it takes us off in unexpected directions. Sometimes it is as simple as question and answer, but often it is much more rambling than that. Anyway, I think I’ll try to blog a bit more of it over the next few days.

Another blogworthy thing is how brilliantly Pearlie negotiates independent life these days. Recently, she had to get a bus quite a long way (about a 20 minute ride) and managed all the following:

She got to the stop, checked the printed timetable to confirm the bus time and realised that another bus would come first. She wasn’t sure if this bus went to the stop she needed, so she hailed it, got on and asked the driver. Driver told her it didn’t so she got off and waited for the right one. When this one ‘disappeared’ off the real-time indicator board, she phoned Dani who looked on the online real-time service to check it was still on its way. Bus then appeared so P got on and travelled to the stop she needed, where she got off and waited for her lift to arrive. I reckon that’s damn confident travelling. Part of what helps P manage is her fab memory for place. She had a complete mental picture of the route the bus would take and that helps!

Right, off to watch the rest of this film. Luckily, though I can remember the giant scissors, I can’t remember anything else!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

End of the road for my story - this time at least

The results of the competition came out tonight and my story wasn't placed. But I'm encouraged by reaching the short list. I am rather fond of the story I entered and am thinking of giving it a bit of a dust down and entering it elsewhere. I've got two or three others ready to go too.

I've spent much of the day flopping about and blowing my nose. I'm reading Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, which is a very absorbing read. It have borrowed it from my friend, K, and I suspect that she'll have to wait until Dani's read it before she gets it back!

The kids have had a good day. Pearlie devised a short general knowledge quiz for us. Leo won, which pleased him. I was impressed that he knew who had been defeated in the London Mayoral election. I lost as I forgot the chemical symbol for silver. I just went to double check it on our poster and found she'd stuck a slip of paper over it so I couldn't cheat! Typing up the quiz involved P in quite a bit of learning of Word 2007. She made a beautiful job of it - all in different colours. P is very into rainbow things at the moment.

Leo has been very happy to find himself re-united with paper, pens, tape and scissors. His large picture map is coming along and he's also dismantled an old mobile phone to make a time machine, as well as numerous cardboard creations.

Dani has spent some time planning a new knitting project for a wedding in the autumn. I think she's so clever, the way things emerge from the needles...

I made cheese scones for lunch and a yummy borlotti bean, tomato and pesto pasta sauce for tea. The kids are both eating loads - making up for the rather lean fare available at hesfes!

We had a quick game of Taboo tonight during which Dani made a somewhat wild guess of marshmallow when the word was, in fact, cigar. That led to a lot of laughter.

I finished reading Treasure Island to Leo tonight and his next request is The Prisoner of Zenda. We're reading our way through a boxed set of children's classics that he pleaded for in a charity shop one day and I felt unable to deny him. Treasure Island was great fun to read as I got to do rough, sinister, pirate voices!

Right, off for cup of tea and biccy before bed. Busy day tomorrow with lots of commitments and this cold is making me a bit foggy. Oh, yeah, and we all liked Doctor Who. Great fun to get everyone in for a collective flying of the Tardis!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Home from Hesfes

We got home from Hesfes last night and I think it’s fair to say that we’re all pretty tired still. I seem to have a bit of a cold too, so I’m not at my best.

Hesfes was much easier going than last year, mainly because the weather was so much better. We had an electric hook up and so we could make tea easily (always important!) and use our sandwich toaster. I don’t think I’ll want another toasted sandwich for months, mind you. We were quite experimental and found that banana and Nutella was good, and that you could make toast by just pressing a slice of bread onto the hot surface for a while. Our new tent proved itself in a couple of hefty showers and stayed far cooler than most of the tents made of modern fabrics. The best thing was seeing a tent there, of the same make, that looked like it had done decades and was still going strong. It is a Vango force ten and is the sort that youth groups like Woodies tend to own.

This was out little encampment. The pop up tent was great for holding all our stuff and the orange tent was fine for the four of us at night. I wouldn't want to rely on one of those pop up tents for actually sleeping in as they really have a feel of play tents!

Breakfast in the sun one morning. Leo demanded that most of his food came in a form that he could run about with!

Here we are packed up and ready to go home. Journeys were fine, except for a silly argument with an ill-informed gate attendant at Farringdon. Next year we plan to brave the tube and avoid the 4o min walk across centra London with all the luggage. That bit really isn't much fun. I kept nearly tripping posh men in suits with our trailer! We were very grateful to friends who carried some bits and pieces for us.

The kids had a fantastic week. Pearlie had her new Dahon bike to buzz about on and spent a lot of time chatting with friends and going to the pool. Leo was engaged in almost constant water fights and lots of games involving chasing, maps, treasure and general rampaging. Both the kids went to the music workshops for three of the afternoons and played in the end of week show.

Leo in the end of week show. he shared a big keyboard with another player.

Pearlie playing at the end of week show. She is concentraing very hard here.

The kids’ band, Duck Rock, played in the children’s cabaret too. They performed their new song – their first original composition – and it went down very well indeed.

Duck Rock playing in the children's cabaret. We seem destined never to get a decent shot of P behind the drum kit!

Because the kids were busy and happy at the workshops, we were able to go to some of the conference sessions. I particularly enjoyed listening to Alan Thomas talk about his new book, which we bought. I also managed to read a four hundred page thriller in two days. This wouldn’t have been my top choice of reading matter but it was the best I could get in the camp site shop! We did sitting by camp fires chatting and singing and enjoyed a fabulous communal meal in the Sussex field on the last night. We entered the family quiz and managed to win. On the last night, Andy told us we’d won tickets for next year’s Hesfes, which was rather cool. I suspect that there will be rather more entrants next year, now people now what the prize is!

Hesfes is great and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to go. But it is also an exhausting way to spend a week. I think that’s because it is so full-on. The days start early, because there are so many little kids, and end late. There is little space to be had and that gets me a bit ragged by the end of the week. I did manage a couple of hours chilling on the beach, while Leo looked for crabs and I read my book.

The kids have come back very bubbly, though. Pearlie rushed off to a bead shop this morning to get things to make rainbow jewellery and Leo is working on a big picture map. We’re very excited about tonight’s Doctor Who too. I am also in a fever of excitement as I returned home to find that the story I have in a competition, that had made it onto the long list, is now on the short list. The short list is eleven stories and from that there will be three winners. The winners get cash but, more exciting for me, is the prospect of getting published in the magazine. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Off we go

by Dani

We’re setting off bright and early in the morning, so this is just to say farewell for a week or so. Everything is finally packed, in two big rucksacks, two small rucksacks, a bike trailer, and a coolbag. Plus we’ve got Pearlie’s bike, and a pop up tent for our gear to overspill into. I hope we can move about with all that – our plan is to walk between stations in London, rather than trying to negotiate escalators etc. The trailer and bike can be connected together, so one person can manage both those plus a rucksack. Should be OK.

The archaeological dig went well. Here’s the ring before it went into the ground.

Today was another group-filled day, with Kids Club for Leo (he and his friend R. made an epic film), another games session and Woodcraft Folk for Pearlie, and last minute shopping, packing,cleaning, and going to work (in Allie’s case) for us.

Pearlie asked an interesting question about whether you would be more likely to get sunburned if you were very tiny, which led onto a bit of conversation about surface area and volume at different scales, and about why doubling the area of something on a photocopier requires an enlargement of 141% (a number Pearlie recognised as the square root of 2).

Anyway, that’s all for now. See you on the other side!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Be prepared

We are very prepared here. We are so prepared you could arrive with a troop of boy scouts wanting to toast marshmallows and sing campfire songs in our kitchen and we would not be ruffled.

This week we are prepared for:

  • Pearlie’s new book group, which met tonight. Actually, we did that at the weekend, when we bought Return of the Hundred Mile an Hour Dog and she read it in a day and a bit.
  • Allie’s writing group, which is meeting here tomorrow. This has involved unbelievable amounts of cleaning and tidying (achieved heroically by Allie), some rearranging of furniture, the purchase of a basket to contain my overflowing knitting, and plans for a simultaneous movie screening on another floor of the house (with popcorn).
  • An archaeological dig at Kids Club, in which a replica of Queen Elizabeth 1’s locket ring, lovingly rendered in Fimo by Leo, will be unearthed.
  • HESFES. We are almost packed, except for all the things we keep remembering that we have forgotten to pack. We are now onto the last minute packing list and a very long list of Things to do before we leave.
This is on top of the usual preparations of life. Pearlie went to three groups altogether today – Kids Club, where she made houmous, straight on to Art, where they painted music, and then the aforementioned book group, where she got very muddy. She also fitted in some packing, a game of rummy, and a good discussion of infinity.

Leo spent the day in more meandering pursuits, including eating fresh berries and pasta with home-made pesto at the grandmothers’ house; digging up potatoes and treasure at the grandmothers’ allotment; and watering plants (and the grandmothers, and himself) using a hose with a mist setting. He’s also been exploring the games on the CBBC website, especially Run, which he enjoys a lot.

Friday, June 20, 2008

On scripts and ad-libbing

People who know me at all IRL, or on the wider blogosphere, may know that I bang this little drum all about ‘scripts’. It goes like this... All around us are scripts that we can, very easily, find ourselves reading. We don’t consider our words or our actions – they fall into our hands and mouths as the ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ or ‘obviously best’ way of being.

In almost any sphere of our existence there’s an appropriate script. Born male? Here’s your script. Female? There you go. Reckon you're gay? Here’s the words. Mother? Father? Middle-aged? Define as ‘alternative’ in your parenting? Got a teenage child? Get the idea? There are ones about race and religion too, of course. It’s what is expected of us in the social world and, perhaps more significantly, it is what we come to expect of ourselves. I suspect I’ve ripped this idea off from stuff I’ve read over the years. Doesn’t Goffmann say things along these lines? I expect so. But, I have also thought about this a lot. As I have aged I am ever more aware of the scripts.

Being a parent is, undoubtedly, one of the most script-laden spheres of my existence. The language alone is incredible in its sheer volume. Is baby ‘good’? Does he sleep? Terrible twos? Tantrum, strop, paddy? Discipline in your home? Consistent? Nurture? Wholesome dinner? Routine? Jabs and checks? Homework? All this is the stuff of the mainstream. But, then, there’s the ‘alternative’ versions. Co-sleep? Attachment? Natural? Organic? Energies? The scripts are there too – for the taking. Other parents will watch you, listen, try to peg you on the line here. Is she as ‘normal’ as me? Is she as ‘genuine’? Watch what she says to her little one who hits... Watch the snack she gets from the bag... I know that there have been times when I’ve floundered in all this. And there have certainly been times when my refusal to adhere to the script has been profoundly uncomfortable.

Once I was in a group of parents who were attempting to support each other – bound together by a loose label of difference. The conversation turned to matters of discipline. The assumption, unspoken, was that we must, surely, all be wanting a ‘disciplined’ home? We must, surely, all see the need for punishment to achieve this? And, after all, no-one ever said they respected their parent for being nice, did they? Firm was what we had to be... I coughed and pointed out that I actually did respect my mum for being nice. I had no desire to be the boss. Nervous laughter and that horrible feeling of being ‘off-script’.

It’s easier not to be ‘off-script’ isn’t it? We all need some time when we feel ourselves safe, surrounded by the sameness of shared experience and outlook. We’re all women here, right? Or we’re all home educators? I don’t trash it. There have been times in my life when I needed, desperately needed, some time when I could relax and stop expecting the insults and hassle that came with being in a minority. The day we got attacked on our way to a Pride festival, I couldn’t have felt quicker healed, sitting bandaged and hugged in a park full of queers. But there’s a difference between finding company, solace and nurture for the different parts of ourselves and swallowing the book. Being aware of the script is a life skill, I reckon, and one we ignore at our peril.

In terms of home ed (just to keep this post vaguely on-topic) there are, of course, scripts. We grab them up as we embark. Working out how to label ourselves is key, isn’t it? Then working out what we’re supposed to say if we’re autonomous, or structured or whatever. However, one of the benefits of making an unusual choice is that there is more opportunity to write your own script. So, in essence, home ed is far less scripted than the role of parent who sends child to school. That’s certainly been my experience. As soon as P was in school I felt myself very heavily scripted. I had to smile at the teacher and thank her – regardless of her behaviour. I had to make sure I adhered to their rules of what I put in my child’s book bag or lunch box. I was ‘good’ in much the same way I was as a pupil. Just picked up the grown-up script and carried on.

Gender is, of course, a positive minefield of scripted interaction. It flows so deep that we barely hear it. When P was a little monkey toddler I’d take her to groups where mothers of boy children sat around and sympathised about how ‘boys never stopped’ and ‘they just climb everything’. On the floor, their little boys played, still and thrilled with train set. I found it hard to join in because I had to keep rescuing Pearlie from the top of the toy trolleys... Script said that boys had energy and girls were manipulative and men were hopeless at doing laundry and on and on. Of course, the little children couldn’t understand all this, could they? It couldn’t possibly be sinking in, settling in their little heads and shaping their view of reality? It couldn’t be how we learn that script, could it? I suspect it is.

I don’t claim any moral high-ground here. I do and say what is expected far more than I ever challenge it – or even think about it properly. We all do. But, as I grow older, I feel more and more liberated from the script. This is probably the slow, slippery path to the batty old lady at the bus stop who wants to tell you about her underwear. But I like it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Church, maths, history and more

On Tuesday evening we went to a local church to hear cousin S play the violin in her strings group. The church in question is ‘high anglican’ so it has lots of pretty bits and bobs around the place. After a little while, both the children produced pencils/pens and started to draw things. Leo was sitting beside me, quietly sketching away. He’d done the crucifix, various hanging things and then he started to draw a wall hanging of Saint Martin. Underneath the representation of the man, was his name in quite curly, old-fashioned writing. Leo finished his drawing and started to copy the writing and I had to stifle a bubbling giggle as he printed out, in nice, clear letters.


I think he would be the patron saint of the periphery.

There’s been a lot of excellent conversation going on here recently but, as usual, most is forgotten. On Wednesday morning I was walking along the road with Leo, when we got onto matters of belief, faith and proof. Leo is of the opinion that he should not question the existence of God in front of believers as he wouldn’t want to upset them.

Pearlie and I did some of an MEP maths book about multiplication involving numbers with digits to the right of the decimal point. This led to a conversation with Dani, in which she explained to me why one of the many rules of my school maths lessons actually works. Once again, I was struck by the fact that I memorised far more than I ever learned about maths. Anyway, Pearlie was happy with the stuff we covered, so she was pleased. She uses a box method for multiplication. We are doing this regular maths at the mo because, as I have mentioned, P is keen to know that she could handle all that the kids do at school. We are keen for her to know that we will give her any support she wants/needs in whatever she chooses. It’s good for me, because I’m learning things that I didn’t know I didn’t know! Maths will never give me the joy that writing does, for example, but I like the feeling of being on firmer ground in my own head.

Leo is very happy because Kids’ Club is planning an ‘archaeological dig’ in the sandpit next week. He wants to make a, rather intricate, object that he has seen in a history book. The plan is for the kids to discover the hidden things and discuss them. He went to bed very tired tonight as he was busy doing the Olympics at Kids’ Club today and then he and Dani had quite a long walk this afternoon, followed by playing with cousins and learning a new computer game.

Pearlie went to her 10-13s group again today and continued work on her board game. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished article. She also went to Woodcraft Folk tonight, where the group discussed motions for the Annual Gathering and instructed their leader on how to vote.

HESFES packing is well underway here. Right, too tired to think about anything else. Had a two and a half hour meeting at work this afternoon and my brain is jelly now. That is probably also because I stayed up until two last night watching a rubbish tv movie and spent this morning working on a new story. Time to fall asleep in front of This Week.