Friday, 26 December 2008

And, relax...

We are having a lovely, relaxing Christmas break. On Christmas Eve we went round to the grandmothers’ house for the traditional tea time gathering. The kids do like traditions and the girls have developed one of their own – the devising of a treasure hunt for the boys. Presents were exchanged and good food eaten and then all five grandchildren walked back across town together. P and L watched the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special in their beds – with one of us on each bed with them. L was very attracted to the Crooked House ghost story trailers but I watched them and advised him to steer clear – a bit too terrifying, I think.

Christmas Day started at the agreed, and civilised, hour of 8am. The kids came and opened their pillowcases on our bed. Then we got up and did the presents under the tree. We were all pleased with our presents - so thanks are due to all. We tend to do a few medium/large presents for the kids, rather than any one huge thing – and that worked particularly well this year. P looks gorgeous in the purple Boden jacket she had been wanting for a while and L’s collector’s edition Mohawk has not left his side. After a late morning gathering at the house of one set of cousins (two mins from us) we had a quiet day at home with just the four of us. I think it must rank as about the calmest and most enjoyably relaxing family Christmas day we’ve ever had. P was pleased to get Sims 2 (at last – she has been wanting it for a while but we never had a good enough computer until this year) and L was very happy with the leather notebook with clasp that we found from an online shop. D was settled on the sofa with the Guardian Araucaria Christmas Prize Crossword. We also watched several episodes of Outnumbered series one (one of L’s gifts from my mum) and Beautiful People (one of P’s gifts from us) and feasted well. We made a puff pastry leek parcel and mountains of roast spuds, carrots, parsnips, peas and sprouts. Then we had meringues with strawberries and cream, which P loves. I made a trifle for tea time. We ate it while watching Doctor Who. The addition of Dervla Kirwan was a welcome one for me.

Today we had my dad and his wife over for lunch and the afternoon. This was also lovely but made rather tricky by the lack of crockery and cutlery in the house! I also cooked lasagne in a new, and enormous, tin. This took far more sauce than I had expected and longer to cook. But it was quite nice when it was done. The kids got more presents – all lovely and exciting. Cousins S and D popped in with both their parents and we drank tea and ate sweets – before a lively game of cheat. Cousin B was not around as he is a football fan and had gone to the match with his dad. When my dad and his wife had gone, the kids started making riotous movies with cousin S’s Flip Camera – her present from her parents. Then it was back to quiet pursuits for the evening.

Tomorrow, we have D’s parents, sister, her partner and their kids arriving for a few days. They will be staying at a holiday house quite nearby, which should work well – we hope!

It has been a wonderful few days and I feel so very lucky. I hope everyone reading is having a good time – wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

P making Sims

Mohawk supervises the writing of spells

The beautiful book gets beautiful writing

Lost to the world in the depths of the crossword. I'm not much help, except for the occasional book title or song lyric!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Duck Rock

Here is a bit of video of P and L with friends B and M playing in their band, Duck Rock. This was at the Squeezebox Rocks gig on 20th December. Quality isn't great but it gives you an idea! Their two original songs are called Turquoise Skies and What Are You Doing? This link doesn't have a picture at the moment but do click it and it will play!

Burning the Clocks in Brighton

Here in Brighton we have a wonderful Solstice celebration. We have been going since before the kids were born and have participated almost every year since. It gets easier each time. The evening starts with a couple of hours of waiting in the corn exchange but this is well worth it because, as official participants, we get stamps on our hands that give us access to the best area for watching the show at the end.

This is what happened when we went along this year with cousins S and D and their mum. This is also an experiment with the new Flip camera! The original quality is much better but too big to share easily. There is no sound track on here - the music is the music played at the final show. It is a weird and wonderful Brighton event. I love it.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Festive stuff

We are really into the swing now. The tree is up and looking gorgeous. We got one delivered this year and it was wonderful. Instead of an increasingly bad tempered slog to the garden centre with the old buggy, only to find they are sold out or have straggly old remnants only, we got to stay in our cosy house and wait for a friendly man to ring the doorbell and hand over a plump and perfect tree. It was worth every penny.

We have had some lovely family card making sessions. Sticky foam is excellent stuff! I have eaten my first mince pie. Sadly, the morning after that I woke with a violent migraine. I hope it was only a coincidence. Whatever the cause, I managed to improve my symptoms a great deal by doing a strange thing – wrapping up warm and walking slowly around the block chewing spearmint gum. Dani was at work and the children were lovely to me – buying my gum and being gentle. It was so cold that they went in and carried on the important business of playing Card-Jitsu on Club Penguin. I carried on walking up and down outside the house and the nausea abated. I don’t know why that helped but I thought it was worth a try after I did something similar on a day when I had to work with a migraine. I guess mint is good for nausea and maybe the chewing gets my gut going again so the drugs can get into my system. My throat has come back to life but I am blowing glue out of my head every few minutes tonight. Hopefully that is the end of it.

We are all pottering away at our own stuff. Leo is into communal blogging with a friend and P has made the most beautiful Christmas window display. She is very much on top of all our Christmas preparations and her own commitments. Dani is knitting lots of lovely things at the moment and I’ve been wasting time playing silly games on Facebook. I’ve also been busy with shopping and some tidying. One of the up sides of having to get our roof re-built in the spring is that we are planning a decent storage space – something these little terraced houses really lack. I’m planning some bookshelves and games and toy boxes up there. It would be good to have an archive of the stuff we aren’t currently using but want to keep. The down side of the roof work is, of course, the money. But I reckon that a sound roof is worth spending money on. Probably better to spend it on a roof than put it in a bank!

Ooh, our little Flip camera is a fun thing. We still need to explore it more but it will be just the job for the sort of short, impromptu films we are likely to make. Right, now we must do some list updating.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A hard week

It has been a week of a bit too much. The pace of festive stuff has been hotting up and I seem to have spent the week rushing from one place to the next. Dani has been laid low with a cold and Leo, too, has a horrible cough that makes him sound rather like a walrus. Dani had a couple of days off work and did a good job of fighting off the lurgy. Leo ploughed on regardless. So, what have we been up to?

There was a launch of the Little Green Pig anthology. That was a nice event down at the library. Friends were there in number and a very pleasing book has been produced. Leo is proud to be in print.

I had to spend rather too much time scouring the town for cloves and red ribbon. Note to self: don’t expect to find either of these things in the shops in mid-December next year. I could have got cloves in a supermarket but I needed them for pomander making with children was so wasn’t looking for a dainty little pot at a high price. I did find them, in the end. I did the pomander making at a very relaxed craft session with 10-13 year old home edded kids. Purple and blue ribbon looked fine! The living room now smells delicious.

Meanwhile it has been my last week at work before my off-contract weeks over Christmas. This is usually a week of winding down and clearing things but there was a certain amount of disruption (*cough*) when a construction worker drove a digger through a main power cable. We didn’t lose power at the site where I work but spent a day with *no* networked services. It is hard to convey the effect of this on a university library in the last week of term, or, indeed, the effect of the services coming back. We run a back-up system when the network is down but all stock that had been returned that day had to go through the system, and be checked for reservations and so on, when it was back. This happened in the evening, when we were running on a team of two... Suffice to say that it was tiring.

I now have my common throat infection again. This makes me want to sit quietly under a duvet and not talk. Instead of this, I am off to the kids’ club Christmas fair. This is going to be a triumph (we hope!) with grotto, cake stall, craft activities – fun and games for all the family etc. Shame it is pissing down. Hope someone shows up! It’s meant to be a fundraiser for the group, which Leo goes to a couple of times a week.

The saddest part of this rather overstretched week was that poor Bunny, the guinea pig, died. He didn’t respond to any of the treatment he had and just seemed to shrink away before our eyes. But he was eating grass and dandelions right up until the last day, and drinking probiotic solution and vitamin C, so I think we did all we could to make his last days comfortable. We also got him treated for skin mites so at least he wasn’t itchy. I suspect he had cancer or some failing of a major organ – he just got thinner and thinner. The kids were upset but we’d had plenty of time to warn them that he was dying and he went very peacefully in his little fleecy bed in a warm living room. That’s not a bad death.

Right... Get up! Get busy! I’m looking forward to tomorrow, which is a family day at home – apart from a brief shopping trip. Dani and I are buying ourselves/each other a Flip Video Camera as our Christmas present. We’re having it early so we can film at the kids’ gig. We haven’t really done presents for each other for a few years so this is a big extravagance. But I hope it’ll be something we get a lot of use from. Oh, yeah, and the tree is coming tomorrow. The tree is my favourite thing about Christmas. That and the cheese... Must go.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Fantasy, imagination, lies

OK, so here’s a real contentious issue for you. We never did Father Christmas. Our kids never believed that FC was anything other than a story. Not a story they particularly bonded with, TBH, but part of our mishmash Christmas Yule Solstice thing. The other day, I read something that suggested that parents who didn’t ‘do’ FC were somehow depriving their children of the ‘magic’ of childhood. This seemed to be something about lack of fantasy and imagination.

I find this rather bizarre. Having now lived eleven years with two kids, I can say that fantasy and imagination are always there. Both the children have engaged in different types of fantasy play over the years. These are things in which we have often colluded – building the fantasy through discussion and play. One example is a glove puppet that we had when the kids were little. He was a passed on toy from a neighbour and rather old and grubby. He was a king – called King, imaginatively enough ;-) He was ‘naughty’ and was responsible for all the knots on the wooden kitchen cupboards. These were caused by him hurling fruit (one of his favourite wicked activities, which were called King’s Naughty Jobs) and he talked in a haughty, bossy voice. His best friend was a small, plastic, ray fish – called Ray... They had a wild time together and went on holiday to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, where King was arrested for shoplifting. It was all very strange and organic. I’d throw things in and the children would build and change it. They would go and find the puppet and demand, “Do King!” So, it is true, of course, that they knew King was not a real being. They didn’t really think he did these things. But it was magic. He would come alive. They were able to suspend their disbelief and address themselves to him, in a way that most adults would struggle to do.

I think that children are capable of a remarkable level of sophistication when it comes to fantasy. They know all about pretending. Leo invented his own magical creature to bring him tooth money and Christmas pressies – the Golden Dragon. It came out of him – wasn’t planted in his head as any kind of explanation for the appearance of money and gifts. And, of course, he knew (on some level) that it wasn’t real, but was inviting us to join him in this fantasy – in this bit of magic of his own creation. And, of course, we did. It was play. It was pretend. It was as real as he wanted to make it.

For me, there is a difference between the invented and evolving fantasy play of children and an imposed piece of pretend like FC. FC has always seemed, to me, more like a big joke being played on children. I’m sure that it can be done as a kind of ‘tongue in cheek’ shared pretend. But, for many kids, I think it is presented as FACT. That is a different thing altogether. It must be a loss when the child learns that FC is not real. Why do people want to set their children up for that? Anyone?

Children don’t need their heads stocked with fantasy. It bubbles up out of them. They can spin their own tales. Of course, those tales are fed by the culture in which they live. I love story and love sharing it with my children. But I’m not keen on lies. I could never line myself up with the adults and spin my kids a special ‘kiddie lie’. That just isn’t magical to me.

Friday, 28 November 2008

A week of mistakes and hoohas

We have been moving rather too fast this week. I have been feeling low level ill (have I been saying this since Autumn began? It feels like it) and trying to stay on top of things. So, there have been minor mishaps aplenty. I washed my phone in the washing machine. I forgot what year we were in and so bought the wrong dvd for someone. P and I slogged to the sorting office to pick up a parcel that the postie had tried to deliver and were disappointed to find that it was not our lovely Christmas craft bits but some free lightbulbs... That sort of thing. It also turned out that our credit card details had been stolen from some online retailer. The card company knew this but hadn’t got round to mentioning it to us. They had, instead, decided the sensible thing to do was to trigger a security thing every time we used the card – and block it until we’d confirmed the transaction. What with washed phones and the approaching festive season, we’d used the card three times in as many days and were spending half our life on the phone to the credit card company. In the end, D managed to speak to someone who knew what was going on and arrange for new cards.

I will spare you any more mishap tales but let’s just say that it is being a very tiring week.

The kids and I are off to the vet with Bunny in the morning. He’s not really improving but he’s still with us. Wish us luck...

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Futures

There’s an advert on TV at the moment in which parents identify their motivation to give up smoking. In one case, a dad looks at a baby boy and says he wants to see him score a goal. In another, a dad wants to “walk her up the aisle.” She is a little girl of about four years old – dressing up and looking at herself in the mirror. Every time I see it I want to scream at the TV.
“He might loathe football and bake a mean soufflé!”
“She might be into open relationships and ride a big motorbike across America!”

I think it is so unhelpful to us all, as we try to work out how to be parents, that it is implied that we should have these kinds of dreams. The way I see it, we’re just not entitled to dream our children’s futures for them. I have had many friends over the years who had to deal with a whole load of unnecessary guilt and pain because they chose lives that weren’t the ones that their parents had dreamed for them. Sometimes they spent years hiding themselves from their parents because to be open would have meant shattering their parents’ dreams. It is so unnecessary.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with playing football or getting married. But there are so many futures. If we dream of happy futures for our children then we cannot help but define them with reference to our own ideas of happiness. We cannot help but factor in what we think is fun or fulfilling. How can we know what they will feel? I am often surprised by my children’s choices, day to day, as I live with them. They change and grow and find new passions. If this is the case in the day to day, it seems insane to me to let myself dream of any future for them. Who is to say what they might want? I suppose I do allow myself the occasional moment when I wonder what it will be like to hug a grown man who was our baby. Or how it might be to see a woman from a train window, as we pull in at a station, and know that she was our little girl. But I don’t dream them up aisles, collecting certificates, owning houses or winning Nobel Prizes. I don’t dream them partners or babies. These will be their choices to make and all I am entitled to do is to keep loving them, no matter what they choose to do with their lives.

What I also dislike about that advert is that I think that it links the notion of responsible parent (who gives up smoking) with the kind of ‘good’ parent who ‘wants nice things’ for their child. It is clear that this is something parents should aspire to. All those ‘hopeless’ parents who don’t give up smoking clearly don’t care enough about their children’s happy futures, do they? Oh, I do dislike that scripted stuff. Good people want certain things and bad people don’t care. Hasn’t everyone figured out that life is rather more complicated than that? And, of course, because these people are ‘good’ they want nice, unchallenging and respectable futures for their children. He’ll play football and she’ll get married and all will be right with the world. It is so patronising. Will these be the rewards for doing the right thing? No, because there are no guarantees. All any of us can do is live our lives the best way we know how. The tomorrow we find ourselves living in will not be the one we expected. That’s about the only thing we can guarantee.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Back again

I have been hopeless about blogging recently. I wanted this blog to be a place for our intelligent and considered thoughts but I think we must be a bit short of those.

We have been busy with real and demanding life. Poor old Bunny, the guinea pig, has been ill. He has been to the vet twice, where they have weighed, prodded and prescribed. I don’t want to tempt fate but in the last day he’s been picking up a bit. A couple of days ago we thought he wouldn’t last long and the vet might advise we speed him on his way. So, please send healing vibes to the old piggy! The kids have been very worried and sad at the thought of losing him. We have no real idea how old he is (he came from the RSPCA as an adult pig) but he could be anything from four years up. I guess he is a fair bit older.

The kids and I went on a home ed trip today – to the Herstmonceux science centre. A local home ed mum had booked a Big Lemon Bus for us to travel on and that gave the day a lovely feel of a Grand Day Out. There was a bridge building exercise for the kids and a show all about sound. We had a great time.

I’ve been doing some extra hours at work too – various meetings and training. I could do with a veg out day but I don’t have one on the horizon.

We had a slight wobble recently, with the number and sorts of commitments we had going on in the family. But everyone had a think about it and decided what they wanted to pursue and what not – and I think we’re all happier now. I know I am! We all have to home ed in whatever way we like but, personally, I’ve never wanted the role of nagger in chief. When everyone in the family is happy with their activities and commitments then the self-motivation kicks in and that nice warm buzz re-emerges. I’m happy when I can feel that. Any other home edders know what I’m talking about? This does seems a tad waffly.

Right, tired now, so off to read some King Arthur to the boy, before I fall asleep at the keyboard.

Monday, 10 November 2008

BBC Four programme about picture books

We've just watched this on i-player. If you love picture books, and you didn't see it on tv, it's worth a watch.

It had lots of our favourites from years gone by. It even had that picture from Dogger that makes my eyes fill with tears because it is the spit of our two when they were about four and seven years old.

I've wittered on about picture books before but I never feel like I've really expressed the importance of picture books in our lives - back when they were little. I can walk past a hundred babies in buggies or see the fuzzed head of a newborn breastfeeder and never get a twinge of broodiness. But show me a child of somewhere between one and three, looking at a book with a grown up, and I get swamped with a wave of nostalgia that swamps good sense. I loved *LOVED* reading books with our two when they were tiny. I think the most powerful times were before they could talk much. They would hand me a book and off we would go.

And it was nothing to do with teaching them to read. When we were there I wasn't wondering if they were noticing text, or pointing out rhyme or letter shape. I was just swimming in the story with them. And it brought back memories to me, memories of pictures that I studied so closely - in my own infancy.

Life with really little children is tiring. I often found it bewildering and sometimes overwhelming. For me, the picture books were like life rafts on choppy days. We could all cling on and Alfie or Frog or The Elephant and the Bad Baby, would get us to calmer waters.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

My favourite shelf

at work is labelled "Books that do not exist". It is rather full at the moment.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

L writes Gremlins 3

Leo has been spending a lot of time on the computer recently, blogging and working on a story. Today the story appeared on his blog. He'd be very glad if people would go and have a read of his story - Gremlins 3.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Married, qualified and otherwise approved

The stuff about prop 8, in California, has sparked with some other floating thoughts about qualifications and made some connections in my head.

Marriage has always seemed strange to me. I shocked my grandmother when (at about L’s age) I announced that I wasn’t going to get married as it was just a nuisance to have to get divorced later. On the whole, I think I had a point. For me, there has been no moment of walking up an aisle or even standing with my beloved in matching tuxedos at a civil partnership ceremony. The moments that have marked commitment in my relationship with D have been largely private. But, for me, commitment is not about standing up and saying something before witnesses. It is about doing it. It is about time and tests and patience and trust. It is about communication and flexibility and, more than anything else probably, respect. I know what our relationship is and what it means. I can’t see that it makes the relationship any stronger to get it stamped and classified. OK, so there are some practical advantages in getting your relationship approved. But, personally, I think it would make me feel more vulnerable. I have never asked the PTB to ‘approve’ us and they never have. So they can’t withdraw that approval. They can’t tell me what my relationship is, or isn’t.

I wonder if part of the reason why people strive to get married is that they want to be approved? They want to get the stamp and have the photos. It is strange that there are certain occasions when photos must be taken. One is at a wedding and another is at a graduation ceremony. I wonder if marriage and qualifications are largely about the same thing – getting validated? I did do the qualification thing but I never went to a ceremony and don’t have that photo with the hat as the idea made me squirm. Once again, there are practical advantages in getting qualifications (sometimes) but I wonder if they carry the same danger as marriage. The bit of paper tells you you’re clever like the bit of paper tells you you’re loved. The bit of paper validates your life. The bit of paper gives you a place in the world, some status, some identity. And that identity bit is, for me, the most risky. Because that given identity is like a veneer over a real person.

I don’t have anything against people living in loving, long-term relationships and I don’t have anything against people studying. (That’s a good job as I live in such a relationship and make a living out of other people’s study!) But I do think that, for me, it is important to remember that content is what counts – not badges.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Hello

Well, this has been a weird week, in many ways. The Obama news was gooood. The news about prop 8 in California was depressing. I have been wondering about many a thing and getting little snippets of time to write creatively. We finished off our history course with six ten to thirteen year olds, today. It was a learning experience for us and I think they all thought it was ok too. Did you know that the world’s deepest hand dug well is in Brighton? No? Well, you do now...

I was prompted to comment on a blog on which I have lurked for many a year, attempting to understand the mindset and lifestyle of a US, fundamentalist homeschooler. I wouldn’t have done so (as I never have before) but I was referred to by the blogger, who knew that this ‘homosexual’ was reading... I had gone to see what she made of Obama’s election and she was, of course, horrified. I asked her if she read my blog but she said that once she’d realised that we were both women she’d stopped reading. So, there we go. Jesus, I have been led to believe, wasn’t bothered about associating with the most reviled of sinners. But I guess it isn’t documented whether he would have read the blogs of homosexuals.

I took a brief break from Patrick Gale (seven in a row and I was in need of someone else’s style) and read Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy, which has been waiting, patiently, on my bookshelf. It was gorgeous and left me feeling all invigorated and not nearly forty. Actually, I’m not forty for a couple of years but D will reach that big zero next month.

Well, off to drink some more tea and watch Michael and Diane. I have a strange fascination for them, sitting on their little sofa with the ghosts of their past selves screaming in horror from the shadows.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Laughs and what counts

Dani and I watched Beautiful People the other night and then found P watching it on i-player. She loves it. It has a few rather risqué jokes but is basically good stuff and I’m glad she’s enjoying it. Dani and I watched a programme about Jake Thackeray on BBC 2 last night and discovered that his songs were part of both our childhoods. My mum and her dad were both fans. If a bit of risqué humour was ok for us then I guess it’s ok for our kids too!

I’ve just had a joyful reunion with a song I LOVED at about the age of fifteen and was reminded of by a homework drama on another blog. It has made me feel so happy that I had to share it. It just about sums up what is important to me in our family life. What counts for me, more than anything, is that my kids know that we are on their side in this rather bizarre world. Whatever they choose to do I hope that they have fun and laughter in their lives and that they are never afraid to go their own way. So, here’s Bowie singing Kooks.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

New blog recommendation

L has started a new blog. Have a look at Mohawk World.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Some of my favourite voices for a cold day

Singing some favourite songs

kd singing something by a better songwriter (shhhh, I didn't really say that...)



Sarah Jane Morris



The gorgeous Heather Small



Annie sings the only vaguely positive one off that depressing album



Tracy Chapman. Love this song.



Gotta have some Dusty if it's all about voices today.



Good voices. Good sentiment.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

We are still here

just not much to blog. P came back from her weekend away, having done lots of terrifying things. She’d had a great time. Leo enjoyed the chance to spend a lot of time in the house doing his sort of stuff - imaginative play, reading, writing, eating... Dani got some pc and knitting time and I went to work a lot.

I went to my writing group last night, which was good, as usual. I took along a piece I’d written down in Cornwall and then re-worked. Reading Patrick Gale is making me long for Cornwall, so it’s good to indulge that in my writing.

We had found a nice looking, cheap holiday flat in York for the week we’re planning at the end of January. But they decided from my email enquiry that I am a Mrs (this is based on nothing but my mentioning that my family and I would like to stay in the flat) and sent us the booking forms addressed to Mr and Mrs. The accompanying letter was also very chatty. Putting the two together, I am inclined to find somewhere else. We had a horrible arrival in a house once, when the woman had her little welcome chocolates ready – addressed to me and my husband... It just gets a holiday off to such an uncomfortable start, when you have to get through a whole load of assumption shattering before you can relax. The holiday firm we use down in St Ives are nothing like that. They just ask for the names of people in the party and don’t invent you husbands... I did think of actually telling this firm that we won’t be using them, and why, and hoping this wakes them up to the amazing reality that not everyone in the world is part of a hetero couple.

Our local prospective Tory candidate has just done the very same thing – sent us a leaflet each, assuming that D is a man. What’s rather funny is that his leaflet is rather full of mentions of Brighton’s diverse population and so on and he, himself, looks rather light in the loafers... He hasn’t lost our votes though, so I don’t suppose he’d care if he’s p’d us off.

Right, better eat something before I leave for work. Isn’t it cold? The whole town seems to be a mass of coughing, sneezing people at the moment. I think I’ll add some extra vit C before I face the germy hordes...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Music

Bit of a different weekend here as we are one child down. P is off at an adventure/activity weekend camp with about forty other local home ed kids. We’ve had a couple of phone calls and all appears to be going well. I had to work extra hours today because it was an open day at work. Dani and L had a quiet day at home. Dani, L and I have been working together at this silly word game on Facebook. Leo’s typing is really coming on. He’s also great at this game. It’s rather like Boggle so he has played it before. The other night, after I’d been playing it, I was trying to sleep. I realised that my brain was working on a set of letters and the words that kept popping into my brain were the results! That was very weird. Rather like those moments when reading aloud to the children and I become aware that I can hear my own voice reading the words while I’m thinking about something completely different.


Life has been pootling along here. I was very impressed with our Local History centre this week. I’d given them a quick call several weeks ago to let them know that we would be coming in with a group of six children and the sorts of things we were interested in. We arrived to find a big table full of stuff they’d looked out for us – census returns, maps and old photographs and so on. They were very helpful – scanning old newspapers for us and helping the kids with the microfilm readers. One of those moments when you realise that the council tax is rather good value for money!

I have also been thinking about music today after reading something on someone else’s blog about giving up music for religious reasons. Some people are not that bothered about music but I realised today that I have always needed music in my life. I’d miss it desperately.

In my early childhood I learned a strange selection of songs. My mum was in an old time music hall group and so I sang all those songs with her. Then I learned all the songs from the small selection of albums my mum had – Oliver! Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Sergeant Pepper. My four year old interpretations of the various lyrics gave me much to think about! I sang at school and played instruments. Then, in my teens, I abandoned all that classical stuff. For two or three years I probably bought an album every week or two, with my Saturday job money. Sadly, I’ve now lost most of that.

When my sister died I inherited most of her tapes. She’d taped her entire album collection to take to university and I spent hours and hours listening to it. She had made a particular compilation tape that I have put away safely. It had Northern Lights and Don’t Stop and See You. That tape was a connection with her and could get me to cry when I just couldn't.

Then there were all those years of making my own tapes and giving and sharing music with friends and lovers. There are songs that have lifted me and songs that have allowed me to let go.

I am always humming and whistling and being reminded of lyrics. Life with kids means that I haven't had much money to buy music and far less time. But now the kids are increasingly into music too and I love that. I'm not a music anorak and I can't stand music snobbery. I am not *serious* about music. I just seriously love it.

Purely for my own entertainment (because other people’s music choices are rather like other people’s dreams and are of little interest unless you love the person in question) here are just a very few of the songs that I have loved.

Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I. This meant a lot. A song about what a woman wants for herself and not all about luurve...




Erasure – Sometimes. This is just fun. Reminds me of a girl I knew. Girl who was sometimes mistaken for a beautiful boy in the gay clubs where we were dancing to this.




Pet Shop Boys – Only the Wind. This one was important when I realised that things that hurt need more than time, sometimes...



Kate Bush – Moments of Pleasure



Tracy Chapman – Heaven’s here on earth. This one was a baby-rocking song when P was newborn. I felt like Tracy was singing it right to our precious baby and it said everything I wanted to say.



Eurythmics - Seventeen Again. This was a song for L's babyhood and all the unforeseen challenges of life with a new baby and a toddler. Yes, this is my cracked nipples song, I guess...



Ten Thousand Maniacs - These are the Days. I'd always loved this song and then suddenly it felt very real. It talks about "the miracles you see in every hour" and that was (and still is) how I feel about life with children.



Right. Must stop as this is just self-indulgence.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Hurry up and wait

I have been thinking, recently, about the expansion of the teenage state and the effect of this on childhood today.

From the moment our children are born there is pressure for them to progress onto the ‘next stage’. Most of this is, I suspect, about marketing objects to parents. A nice example is the kind of ‘pre-walking’ shoes you can now buy in any Clarks shop. Even ten years ago, when we went to get P her first shoes, these didn’t exist. In fact, while we were there the saleswoman sent away a family with a barely standing little boy, telling them to bring him back when he was walking. Now they’d have been advised to part with a few quid for shoes for the ‘cruising’ stage. These apparently ‘help’. It seems to me that childhood is now crammed with objects that are there to ‘support’ or ‘entice’ children into being someone older than they are.
When I was a child there were ‘teenagers’ and up until that point there was ‘childhood’. Now it seems that children are ‘tweens’ almost as soon as childhood begins. It may just be that we have a girl of eleven but I feel that the culture is particularly loaded with such stuff for girls. There is underwear that mimics that of women, for little girls of single digit ages. Why does a four year old need a ‘crop top’ more than a vest? Why are girls given the idea (from adverts to tv to children’s fiction) that they have outgrown childhood, when they’re in the very heart of those few precious years?

But, what strikes me as rather ironic is that, for all our children are hurried into their teenage years, they are then held in that ‘not yet adult’ state for longer than ever before. Why the rush to get them out of childhood if they’re not to be admitted to the adult world until they are at least eighteen? When I was young, most of my contemporaries left school at sixteen and went out to work. Those entry level jobs aren’t available to sixteen year olds now. It seems that time in college is ‘necessary’. The ‘school leaving age’ (which we all know isn’t really that!) gets higher and higher. Why do we push children to grow up fast and then clap a lid on it and tell them they’re not really grown up until they hit twenty? What is that about? Anyone?

In this house we go our own sweet way as much as possible. But the air we breathe is full of ‘shoulds’, isn’t it?
In this house childhood sometimes sounds like this,
L: Can I have a wormery?
D: Mmm? Yes, I suppose so.
L: Good, because I’ve got one.
A: Where?
L: In my bedroom in a cardboard box.
Said worms are now in the back porch and soon to be in a more permanent box. We finally all agreed that making worms live beside a de-humidifier wouldn’t be good for their health. This worm thing is a challenge to me. L didn’t help by adding the following comment, “I hope they breed and when I take off the lid there’ll be a writhing mass of worms!” Anyway, we got out the Wildlife Fact File that a colleague gave me and I realised I knew nothing about reproduction in worms. Now I do.

My voice is now returning and I am looking forward to a less busy week. We finished watching ‘Life on Mars’. It was excellent entertainment. I turned three in 1973 and it has amazed me how often (while watching) I have found myself picturing the house where I grew up and remembering certain images and sensations – the phone, cupboard doors, patterned carpet, long party dresses with big frills, bearded dad and uncle, the way the tv buttons felt when we pressed them in, cooking by candlelight in the powercut, nylon clothes. When I was little, in the 1970s, I would ask my mum for stories from her childhood. My mum was nearly four when the Second World War broke out and nearly ten by the time it was over so she had a lot of dramatic, childhood tales. It was so clearly ‘history’ to me – another world. Now I realise that it had all happened only thirty years before. It is strange how the things we lived through are never quite ‘history’ to us. Time plays funny tricks. I suspect I’m not the only person who finds it hard to remember these 20something dates. They just don’t seem real to me.

Right, off to eat some toast and not get stressed. There is plenty of time!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Rather gloomy

Bum. Feeling like rubbish, with Rula Lenska voice again. Don’t know why it’s always Rula Lenska who springs to mind. Obviously made some deep impression on me in the late seventies, I guess. The week picked up pace after Monday and I just haven’t been able to shake this off. Got a day off work tomorrow, though, and I’m intending to rest a good deal. But Dani looked decidedly pink of nose last night, so I think she’s probably coming down with it too.

Tuesday the kids had things all afternoon and I needed to be out dropping them off, waiting around and collecting them again, from 1 until about half five. Wednesday included a Kids’ Club meeting and then a strange journey to work. I had to go up to the station to avoid a demo on the road. Good job I did, as the road was finally closed in both directions. Road was open again for my journey home but the buses were still a bit disrupted. Mine was packed with students going out to a club night who were singing rousing drinking songs. Dani had her work AGM in the evening so, when I finished work at 8pm, I had to go round to collect the kids from their cousins’ place. I extracted them quietly, so as not to wake their little cousin D, and we went home. Yesterday was the first day of the history sessions D and I are facilitating for a group of six 10 to 13 year old home edders. I think this went quite well. Then I had to go straight to work for the rest of the day.
By the time I got home last night I was feeling very miserable. I’m just so tired. Poor kids are getting a very grumpy me at the mo. Having one of those days when experiment remnants and the half finished creations are closing in on me and I just haven’t got the energy to deal with it. There never seems to be any less on the list of things that need doing, even though I feel like I never stop. This is why I’m sitting here whining on the keyboard, I guess, instead of actually getting something done. Luckily, we’re off to a home ed group soon, so the kids can get away from me for a bit!

Think I’d better stop there as I don’t seem able to lift this to a happier place. Back another day with a happier post. Will now listen to music, wash up and remember that I really have nothing to moan about.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Keeping on

In the early hours of Monday I was woken by a throbbing tonsil. I always forget that this term tends to bring coughs and colds aplenty. The students return and share about their germs in the close confines of young lives in halls of residence. Then they come and cough at us over the enquiry desk! Honestly, sometimes I find myself wanting to escort them home with a Lemsip. I struggled to get back to sleep and felt lousy in the morning, so I phoned in sick.

I don’t often do that but it was wise, as I crashed out for about two hours in the afternoon – right when I should have been arriving at work. The rest of the day I lolled about. I devoured nearly all of my latest Patrick Gale book. I loved it. It took me right there, everywhere. I was transported.

Today is going to involve much more going out and about. I could really do without it but these are things the children enjoy and are committed to, so I’ll pop some painkillers and get on with it. I have had a reasonable night’s sleep, so it should be possible. Need to buy some cheap joggers for P, who has an adventure weekend coming up. Need to buy some cheap joggers for L who is displaying his ankles rather a lot. Need to get my head around the demands of a day later in the week when our little history course is starting – check bus times and so on. Need to reply to the CME consultation. Oh no, I feel a list coming on. Now, I must not pick up that new Patrick Gale that I’ve borrowed from E!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Back again

Well, it’s been a while and I don’t know why. I have been prioritising story writing, I guess. Work is also very busy at this time of year and I don’t feel much like sitting at a computer in the evening. Instead, Dani and I have been watching series one of Life on Mars, which we borrowed from the library. We missed it first time around but we loved Ashes to Ashes, so we thought we’d give it a go. It doesn’t have Keely Hawes, which is a shame, but we really enjoyed it. I did find it a bit painful from time to time and I found myself dealing with flashes of hospital memory that I could have done without. But I guess that shows it was well written.

On Friday we went to the Planetarium at Chichester. Dani had made a booking for a home ed visit and we ended up being a group of forty six. Thinking about the stars is rather good for putting things in perspective. When the papers and tv never stop about the end of the world as we know it, it is rather soothing to look at the constellations in the company of a man who loves his subject.

Sadly, Leo came down with a ferocious migraine. We tried food and managed to find half a paracetamol, but it was too late. The pain got worse and then, in a packed train carriage, the poor boy threw up. He managed to get it all in an empty Tupperware, which was very clever of him, and he then dozed a bit. He got off the train ok but then threw up again (in another Tupperware!) right at the ticket barriers in Brighton station. It’s probably one of the most hectic spots in the whole town. But it’s amazing how people can manage to avoid you if you’re accompanied by a vomiting child! He rallied a bit after that so we splashed out on a cab home from the station. We had a cold-ridden Pearlie with us too and she was pretty tired by then. She started to feel car-sick in the cab but, luckily, nothing came of it! The children retired to their respective rooms and rested. I phoned the doctor because I’d like to know if there is some better drug we could give him at the first sign of a migraine. I hope she’ll take my word for it that that is what is going on for him, without wanting to spend time and money on a load of tests and so on. Honestly, he is like a text book case and watching him has made me realise that I had migraines as a child, even though I never had them diagnosed until I was about twenty two and had one that involved my falling on the floor repeatedly! There is a certain amount we can do with rest and food, to reduce the incidence, but migraine management is tricky for an adult sometimes – let alone someone of eight. And the dread and panic that he feels when one of coming on just makes things worse, I suspect.

The kids have been busy with things and we’re all getting into the stride with our routine for the term. We shall review things at Christmas, I think, and see how everyone is feeling with the things they’re doing.

I am finding all this financial crisis stuff rather hard to understand. I understand it for about five minutes and then forget again and it all just seems like nonsense. Something will happen. No doubt, the people with least will end up suffering the most as that is what usually happens, isn’t it?

Saturday, 11 October 2008

We are loved



Thanks very much for this award, Peri. We love you too!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

More than

I’m going to break my own rule and share a snippet from some time I spent with Leo, yesterday, doing maths. (Entirely voluntary maths, for those who may be wondering!) We were looking at something that thought it was introducing the symbols for less than, more than and equal to. (Actually, I guess it thought you knew equals... Mind you, I never really saw that symbol as that, for many years. I thought it was more like a piece of mathematical punctuation – the thing you write before the answer!) Anyway, I was surprised by the way Leo was jotting down these symbols like he’d known them for years.

Allie: “Have you seen these symbols before, Leo?”
Leo: “Well, that one (points to more than) I have.”
Allie: “Yes?” (perplexed)
Leo: “Well it’s from that company, More Than, isn’t it?”
Allie: "Is it?"

And, of course, he is right. It was one of those lovely moments when I am reminded that children are always noticing and absorbing and making connections. I must have seen as many adverts for that company as Leo has but he likes design and I'm not usually paying much attention to it. He notices the look of a thing. He must have noted that strange thing they’d done with the letter A and then slotted that together with the maths page he was looking at. I do like home ed – I learn so much about learning.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

No faith

These days I seem to spend a lot of time, IRL and online, with people who have a variety of religious and/or spiritual beliefs. I often wonder why I have no beliefs along these lines and others do. Then I wonder how it can be that so many people get so much from these beliefs and yet I feel no lack.

I often wonder if some of the framework of morality and ethics that a religious upbringing provides, I got from the atheist, politically aware family that I was raised in. We didn’t have faith but we did have beliefs and these, I think, are why I felt so secure in knowing right from wrong, in my childhood. I was certainly brought up to think that we all have duties towards each other – as well as rights. This is one of the things that irritates me when people blame the ‘breakdown of society’ on the decline of religious observance. There was an article along those lines in our local paper today. I object to the notion that my children will be inherently 'worse' than children raised with faith.

But, for many of my friends, their beliefs are about way more than a code of conduct. They feel immense comfort in the notion of a divine or cosmic being or essence that is watching over them. I’ve never felt that to be anything other than a creepy notion. I certainly do have moments of despair about the self-destructive impulses of my species but I feel comforted by the thought of the vast universe. We are just one little rock. It is sad that we can cause ourselves, each other and other creatures such pain. It is rather shameful that we appear intent on destroying our planet. But the planet will adapt and something else will happen.

My personal fate is of little importance. I find death a rather comforting thought. I am a little creature that lives for a very short time and then I’m gone. Everlasting life sounds exhausting to me! I’m not after heaven or salvation. Let me be gone when I’ve had my time. I find it re-assuring that just as there is a limit to the pleasure any human can experience, so there is to the pain – for me and for everyone else. I miss people that I have lost but they are dead. I have a human brain, which means I have a bank of memories and the people I have loved are in my mind. Over generations they will be forgotten and that’s ok too.

Maybe I’m shallow. Maybe the fact that a beautiful sunset or a flawless beach are just that to me, shows that I’m lacking something. But they are just that and they can still move me to tears. They don’t move me to tears as evidence of divine creation or cosmic energy but as the place I’m lucky enough to call home. I’m an animal with the capacity to appreciate beauty. How cool is that? (as my dd would say...)

My lack of spiritual beliefs means that I do believe that there are people entirely alone, suffering. It is a harsh world, in many ways. But there are also many, many examples of what a Christian friend of mine would call fellowship. I’m frequently amazed by people’s goodwill towards each other and their capacity for empathy when others are going through a hard time.

I do understand the offence caused by people who condemn religion – even if I have my moments of nodding along with them sometimes. There is nothing to be gained from ranting at people about all the things you find offensive, or plain ridiculous, about their beliefs. It’s not like anyone is going to suddenly throw up their hands and say, “hey, you’re right, it’s a silly idea.” It’s arrogant and unpleasant to listen to. Mind you, I say the same about people who want to accost me in the street, or on my doorstep, to let me know I’m doomed to everlasting hell unless I agree with them. Oh yeah, and most of them would like me to live a celibate life and renounce the love of my life too.

I sometimes have to cough down a comment or two when I fear that people I care about are damaging themselves through adherence to a spiritual or religious belief I don’t share. But I remind myself that they are probably doing the same thing when watching me go my merry way. In the end, I believe in freedom more than ‘being right’ – way more.

One of the things that age has changed in me is the fact that I now have far more faith in human capacity to get things wrong than I ever did when I was a young woman. I wanted to find a formula that could be applied to ensure a better world and for me that was a political quest. Now I believe that one of the few things we can rely on is that whatever we do, there will be unintended consequences. This has killed the revolutionary in me (she was always rather tentative anyway!) and made me feel that the best change is done in small steps with plenty of opportunity to rectify the messes that you will, inevitably, make along the way. But that’s all dependent on there being a will in the first place and that demands the recognition that we will be best served by caring for each other and the world around us – rather than seeking to win the race or get the biggest heap of gold. But, just as I no longer believe in a political formula for a better world, so I don’t believe in a religious one. Because I don’t believe in God/spiritual forces I think that religions are human constructions and so they will be full of error. Unintended consequences abound! If we start with an idea that the first thing that must happen is that everyone adopt the exact same belief system we’re off on the merry path to witch burning and stoning. I don’t want to go there.

I don’t anticipate a death-bed conversion to any religion. But I never say never. That’s something else that I think I’ve learned over the last twenty years or so. We are changing creatures and people do the most surprising things. But I think that spending a childhood with no God, no religion, makes it more likely I’ll live and die that way. People who are raised with faith often do tend to miss it if they go without later on, I’ve observed. We’ll see.

This evening we’ve all been talking about religion. I was trying to explain that Jesus is both God and the Son of God. Pearlie raised an eyebrow and said, “that must have been a complicated family tree.”

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Migraine

Yesterday I woke with a migraine. It is always bad when I wake with one. I had a cluster of triggers the day before – hormonal, got too hungry between meals, didn’t drink enough – and I’m also wondering if the twister wasn’t the last straw...

Dani went off to work and I got up slowly and tried to function. I sat with P, who was doing some maths, but I was more a grim, occasionally groaning presence than any help. Leo was writing in his spell book and watching Merlin clips on i-player. I told the kids I was going to lie down and I did but it really isn’t possible to shake a migraine unless I sleep deeply. I can do that thing of holding myself in light sleep (I think I learned it when they were babies) but the pain just goes on. I phoned D and asked her to come in at lunchtime (bringing bread for kids’ lunches) and she agreed. When she saw how grim I was she arranged to work from home for the afternoon. Then I felt I could really sleep. I know the kids are really fine these days if I do crash out but I just can’t relax properly if it’s daytime and I’m the only adult in the house.

After a sleep I was no longer feeling like I was about to throw up or cry, so I lay on the sofa for the rest of the day. I’m so lucky that D appreciates how incapacitated I am by migraine. It’s also lucky that technology can help with working at home.

Right, D and P are off at a wedding and I’ve things to arrange for Leo before I can go to work. The weather here is amazing - far better than it was for most of the summer. I’ve got to work today and tomorrow – ho hum.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Twister

We went to the fair this evening. Now, when I was a child and a teen I could go on the twister and come running off feeling excited and energised. I took the kids on the twister tonight and could barely stagger off the ride! I still enjoyed it but my head seemed to take several minutes to re-adjust. It was the children’s first time on a more scary, grown up ride. They usually want to stick with the giant inflatable slides and flying chairs. They loved it and have decided they will definitely go on it next time the fair comes down.

Leo took a lot of cleaning at bedtime as he appeared to have varnished himself with a thin layer of toffee apple. Pearlie had a luminous pink tongue from consumption of candy floss. There is something magic about taking them to the fair. I can still remember the gut leaping thrill of seeing the fair arriving in town, back when I was Leo’s age.

Yesterday, while I was at work, Dani and the kids went to London to see a show. This was thanks to some free tickets that another home edder was offering on one of the national lists. It was Joseph and his Amazing so on, starring one of the runners up from the BBC Saturday evening show. As it turned out, he wasn’t actually in it but they said the show was excellent. Leo woke me this morning singing - Aaah, Aaah, Aah! - like a member of the chorus. Many thanks are due to the home edder who supplied the tickets.

Hoping

I've been keeping up with some goings on in California - via Lesbian Dad. I have also recently got back in touch with a great friend from my student days, who lives out there and has just married her beloved. I hope for her, and the many others like her, that the proposition is defeated. It would re-write the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

It is clear from just a bit of reading that this is a hugely emotional matter for many people - and some of what I've read (and watched) has had me in tears. This surprised me a bit as getting married has always seemed like a rather odd thing to me and I've never felt in the least deprived - on a personal level. I wouldn't do it if I could and the whole civil partnership thingy doesn't appeal. But this touches me because it is about whether or not people are prepared to afford the same respect to same-sex unions as they do to heterosexual ones. It is making people say what they really feel and (because it is directly about the very heart of the experience of being lesbian or gay) it chips off some of the shell that I suspect many lesbian and gay people (and our friends and families) have around us.

Back when I was young it was the era of the Tories and Section 28. I found a thriving lesbian and gay community here and it was, in many ways, a good time to come out. But part of what I learned was to glory in my life's experiences in spite of what the world might say. I learned to find support where it was offered and shut out the rest. And there was, of course, a lot of sh*t. I was very lucky compared to many other people and I often stop to reflect on my good fortune at being born in this place and time and into a birth family of such warmth and love. But it would be a lie to say that the negativity never got to me. I knew I wanted a partner and children and I knew that there were plenty of people who did then, and still do now, deem that 'wrong'. None of us can live our day to day life dwelling on the fact that the most precious part of our existence is thought sick, dirty or even just 'lesser' by some others. I know it is so but I try not to think about it. It's corrosive to peace of mind and does no good.

But, when something like this Prop 8 thing happens in a community, it breaks the shell a bit. This is because people have allowed themselves hope and joy. They have been seen beaming and crying and glorying in their love. To have this experience taken away, written off or downgraded, would be a boot to that exposed heart. I hope they don't have to bear that.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

It’s raining and our son is off at home ed group wearing a dressing up cloak with a fur fabric trim. For those in the know, it is Westphalian Trim.

P and I had plans for this morning but, thanks to the library service prize of a free DVD loan for completing the summer reading scheme, I’m doing my best to tune out Totally Spies! It is probably my least favourite programme. The high pitched American teeny voices make me want to scream. OK, got headphones on now – that’s better! It has to be watched now because it’ll be overdue again tomorrow.

We had a nice trip to see D’s parents at the weekend. D’s dad had set up his moth lamp and we all had a look at some of the moths who’d been attracted during the night. Then the kids made friends with the frogs in the pond. We had a yummy lunch and came away with a DVD player that they didn’t need, which is great because P could do with one in her room. If we’d got it set up now then I wouldn’t be having to endure Totally Spies!





It was my birthday recently and I got lots of nice things – thanks to all. Dani got me some old Miss Marple videos (1980s, Joan Hickson ,BBC ones) which I’d been coveting. They’d been in the second-hand shop since March and when they finally disappeared I thought, “well, they’ve gone now...” in a gloomy way. I was thrilled when I opened this big parcel and they spilled out all over the bed. She got me thirteen tapes for £20, which is a real bargain and I’m enjoying watching them.

I’m still on a Patrick Gale kick and have an Ali Smith and book of Vanessa Gebbie’s short stories lined up too. My mum got me a book of Jackie Kay’s poetry that I’ve been wanting. I’m reading a lot at the moment and writing a lot too. It feels very good. Making the time isn’t easy but I am determined. I also got myself lots of nice bath and hair stuff with birthday vouchers – and as presents – so I’m preparing for the winter with cocoa butter and lip creams, and so on. It’s been years since I have had much of that sort of stuff. It’s lovely to feel so pampered. Reading in the bath is one of my all time favourite activities.

Dani and I went out for the evening in honour of my birthday. We saw Clare Teal and her voice is even more impressive live. She was very witty and down-to-earth too. We had a drink or two and wandered home – a good night.

The rest of life is feeling rather overly busy and complicated. A slight mix-up over venue booking has thrown one of the home ed group things into a certain amount of chaos. I’m sure everything will settle down but we have a few things that are still not started and, until we’re living the complete routine, it’s hard to know how it will work.

P and I have just had a lovely surprise. My dad turns seventy in a week or two and he has decided that, instead of being given present, he is treating everyone else in the family. So, some little brown envelopes have just appeared through the door – one for each of us. He enclosed a note with the wise observation,
“You don’t have to last for seventy years to realise that a lot of little treats (even very little ones) is better than one big one.”
I agree, wholeheartedly!

Friday, 19 September 2008

A day in the life of the Greenhouse family

I have been interested to read some ‘days in the life of’ blog posts at people’s blogs recently. It is so interesting, the way the internet can introduce us to people we’d never meet in our day to day lives. I’m sure it’s a good thing.

One of the reasons we moved to this blog was because I don’t feel comfortable talking in detail about what the children are doing. So, let’s see if I can give you a rough idea of our days that doesn’t break my own rule ;-)

The most notable feature in the way we live our family life is probably the fact that it is rather structured for people who purport to be autonomous home educators! This is because the children have a lot of commitments. It is also because both D and I work outside the home so we have to make sure that we can get to work and be at work without it interfering with the children’s things. We have timetables on the big noticeboard in our kitchen. This is useful in reminding us where we’re meant to be – and when – but is also so that we don’t add in impossible things.

Because we have these timetables, each day of the week has a distinct character. Fridays are pretty laid back, for example, whereas Mondays involve a lot of coming and going – as do Thursdays. If something swaps from one day to another then we’re often in total chaos.

So, on one of the days of the week, this might happen...

Dani gets up and heads off to work at about 8.40am. Sometimes both children are awake by then, but often L is still asleep. If he is, he usually wakes when she opens the door.

I will shower and dress and be offering breakfasts or making packed lunches, by nine. Children appear when they want and either make their own food or ask me to do it. I pay attention to what is eaten because I know it will influence ability to cope with whatever the day may throw at us! Leo copes better with a substantial whack of protein in the morning so he might have egg or vege sausage. If someone doesn’t have much breakfast, and they’ll be out for lunch, then I add more to their pack and remind them to raid it mid-morning.

P might head off to a local home ed group, leaving me and L with a couple of hours at home. I will take my cue from him and we’ll either do things together or separately. I’ll be trying to fit in things like getting washing on the line and washing up dishes. We might read our books side by side or he might be on the computer or pottering about. We might work together on his maths book or write stories. He might have a creation on the go and spend time in the re-cycling collecting materials. There’s always some drawing and sometimes things like fimo or watercolour painting. I’ll give him a hand with his keyboard practice if he wants me to – acting as music stand and occasional metronome! We talk and also enjoy silent time. The tv isn’t really on in the mornings here. In years gone by we used to watch schools tv but this isn’t very popular now.

It is equally possible that L might head off to a group and P and I will be at home. We have some scheduled slots for things she’s decided to concentrate on at the moment – but these are, of course, changeable if we feel like it. We also play cards or other games and chat and drink tea.

P might re-appear, or she might have something else to get to. I suppose I can tell you the bare bones of what these things might be! Maybe it’ll be art, or French with my mum or a sewing workshop. Soon it’ll be a self-managed learning group. She will be in touch with us throughout the day if she’s not with us.

D and I may ‘change mummies’ at lunchtime. If it’s what we call ‘tight changeover’ then I will be ready for work and on the doorstep as she comes along the road. We will exchange a few words. If we need to say more then I’ll be on the phone to her as I walk to the bus stop.

I find my journeys to work a very restful time. I will listen to music or have a read through of a story I’ve written and do some editing. Sometimes I listen to other people’s conversations. At work I do worky things until 7pm during vacations or 8pm during the term, when I head home.

The afternoon at home might involve a group activity for someone, or a visit to the grandmothers’, or time together. If Dani has time alone with L she’ll do some stuff with him – often his chemistry set or another messy experiment type thing. She’s very good at helping with materials and so on. If she and P are alone they’ll often do something outdoorsy – a bike ride or trip to town for something. When she has both of them for an afternoon – and there’s no groups or other social stuff – she often takes them to the swimming pool and/or library.

Whoever is around, later afternoons tend to involve some tv watching and/or quiet time for people. If the sun is shining, the kids may play in the street for a while – chalking on the pavements or dangling hulk from the upstairs window and swinging him about... If we’ve ended up in the park with other home edders (which happens most weeks) then we might be there until quite late.

We eat together when we can. When I’m at work until eight then the other three will usually have eaten before I get in. Evenings are actually rather lovely now. If no-one is going out – I go to writing, Dani to knitting and P to a bookgroup and Woodcraft– we’ll usually be together in the living room. Saturdays often seem to involve a roast dinner. We have some favourite family programmes – lots of comedy, Doctor Who (of course) other dramas and some factual stuff. We also watch stuff like X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. At the moment we all like to watch Who Do You Think You Are?

Kids usually go to bed at 9.30pm and have half an hour of the book they’re currently sharing with a parent. After ten they are in their rooms until morning – reading or sleeping. D and I will talk, watch programmes on tv or computer, plan things we need to plan, do banking and so on. There might be some fundraising or other admin for a home ed group. There’s cups of tea in the evening too. We often go to sleep way too late – way after midnight. Sometimes I fall asleep under a woollen blanket on the sofa and D wakes me to go to bed.

That could be any weekday. Some weekdays the kids are with me all day because D’s doing 9 to 5 at work. Weekends are a bit different because the kids don’t have any groups at weekends. I work a lot of weekends, which means D and the kids are usually together and they often see cousins.

We do a lot of groupy stuff but it is important to the way we home ed. I’m happy that the children have autonomy in their learning but, for me, it is necessary that they are offered lots of interesting opportunities. I also think that being able to get along with other people is probably the most vital life skill there is. That doesn’t mean you have to live in a social whirl – I often crave time at home – but no-one lives in a complete social vacuum.

We often have days that are a break with every routine. Today, P went on a five mile nature walk with other older HE kids – led by rangers from a nature reserve. One day soon we’re going on a biggish home ed trip to a planetarium. When groups aren’t happening much (over the summer) we do quite a few days out.

I rarely get a whole day at home. I would do that more if I could but it’s impossible at the moment. We are very lucky that we’re generally a healthy bunch (migraines aside) and so we can stand the pace. The children get time at home – but mostly in chunks here and there. It amazes me how much they get done when they’re here! Mess making, especially...

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Stuff

Well, it’s very odd having a blog where I’m not blogging the children’s comings and goings. It makes me realise how much of that we do! Not that I’m complaining because it suits us just fine – but, still, is there much else to say?

Yes, there is, because we parents also have lives! Honest, we do... Yesterday I went to my writing group. I spent a fab two or three hours round a kitchen table, drinking wine and reading and talking and gasping and laughing and all that. There is something so inspiring and refreshing in meeting up for a limited time to focus just on that one thing –our writing. I’ve been introduced to these people through my friend, E. They are not a group of people I’d have met in my day to day life, so it’s interesting to find myself sharing this thing with them. This thing that I love.

Dani made some fingerless gloves for L’s latest incarnation – Barnaby Grimes. She’s now working on some of those fingerless gloves with a flap, for P.

We are also planning a short local history course, which we’re going to offer to one of the home ed groups that P is going to. Neither of us has ever offered anything like that to anyone before – but we’re quite excited to be doing it. I have to confess to browsing at work and borrowing things like 100 ideas for teaching history. The course is going to be four sessions based around a rather bizarre bit of our local history.

I threw L by going to work this morning for a staff forum. He is used to waking up when he hears Dani opening the front door to leave and rushing, bleary eyed, down the stairs to kiss her goodbye. This morning it was me standing there! P is nearly always up before other people. She has never needed much sleep and that doesn’t seem to be changing.

I have decided to keep blogging books. Dani and L are currently reading Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth, which they are enjoying. P and I are reading Fly by Night. This is good but fairly heavy going. We have to re-cap from time to time because, as P said, there’s so many similes! The other night I made the awful discovery that it doesn’t belong to us! So, P, M and J, if you’re reading – we’ll pop it in the post as soon as we’ve finished. I’m mortified as I don’t like it when people don’t return my books... I’m still into Patrick Gale and Dani is reading a book about the South Downs.

Oh, and one little moment with children... I came home from work the other night to find hideous bloody werewolf footprints on the pavement. Dani had helped to find a fake blood recipe on the internet and sacrificed the end of a tin of golden syrup – very realistic!

Monday, 15 September 2008

First draft of response to CME Guidance Consultation

Update 18/9/08: I sent it in, with a couple of very minor amendments, and got an acknowledgement with Response Identifier no. 23. Deadline is October 24th, so plenty of time still to get yours in!

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Whew! I finally got to the end of the questions. Don't feel you have to read all this if you don't want to, but if anyone does have the stamina to plough through it all I would appreciate any comments. I'll probably leave this up here to look at all in one piece for a few days before sending it in, so if there are glaring errors here it's not too late to correct them.

For those who have no idea what this is about, have a look at EO's campaign page on it, and if you are thinking of composing your own response, you might want to check out Carlotta's response too.

Respondent Information Questions

Please tick the box that best describes you as a respondent

 Not Checked Local Authority

 Not Checked School/College

 Not Checked Central Government Department

 Not Checked Youth Justice Service

 Not Checked Health/PCT/SHA

 Not Checked Social Services

 Not Checked Police

Checked Parent/Carer

 Not Checked Voluntary/Community Sector

 Not Checked Connexions

 Not Checked Children's Trust

 Not Checked Other

Consultation Questions

1 Based on your experience of local authorities implementing this duty since it was introduced in 2007, does the guidance make clear the actions which local authorities are expected to take to help them comply with the duty?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

The draft guidance is confusing and in my opinion makes it less clear to local authorities how they should comply with the duty in s436A of the Education Act 1996.

My experience, as a member of the home education community in Brighton & Hove, is that our local authority's attempt to implement this duty so far has already resulted in unwarranted intrusions into the private lives of home educating families.

For example, one local family received officious letters and telephone calls from the Education Welfare Service after their home educated son had been involved in a serious accident requiring hospital treatment. At this worrying and stressful time for the family, this was the last thing they needed. The child in question was already known to be home educated by the Local Authority's EOTAS team, and the parents made it clear to hospital staff that he was home educated. There was therefore no question that he was 'missing education' and there was no need for this follow up work to be done.

Another family had the distressing experience of an Education Welfare Officer arriving unannounced on the doorstep, and asking inappropriate questions of the 14 year old child who answered the door. He was left with the impression that his younger brother was in hospital, even though the hospital admission being followed up had taken place some years previously. As this family was in fact home educating perfectly legally, there was no need for this heavy handed and incompetent approach. A polite letter would have been sufficient.

Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to engage the local authority in dialogue about how to implement the duty in such a way that home educators are treated with respect and not automatically suspected. The local authority's internal strategy document on Children Missing Education includes prejudiced statements about home education, and the procedural flowcharts within it do not provide for the perfectly legal outcome that a child is found to be home educated and no action is required.

The draft guidance as it stands would intensify all these problems and make the lives of law abiding home educators more difficult. It would make the process of meaningful dialogue between home educators and the local authority much more difficult, directly contradicting the stated aim of the Elective Home Education Guidelines issued in November 2007.

2 Does the guidance make clear the role that implementation of this duty has in the wider programme of work led by local authorities to improve outcomes for children and young people, including promoting their safety and well-being?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

I found the entire document to be extremely unclear, with many confusing statements about the relationships between education and other aspects of children's lives.

For example, paragraph 1.1.4 begins "Children not receiving a suitable education are clearly at risk of a range of negative outcomes that could have long term damaging consequences for their life chances."

After discussing qualifications, this paragraph then goes on: "They are also are more likely to be vulnerable in one way or another. They may be from disadvantaged families, (experiencing multiple risks such as poverty, substance misuse, mental ill-health and poor housing), travelling communities, immigrant families, be unaccompanied asylum seeking or trafficked children, or be at risk of neglect or abuse or disengaged from education."

This sentence is so poorly constructed that it is not at all clear what it means. Are the disadvantages of poverty and poor housing being presented here as causes of a lack of education, or consequences of it? Is being from a travelling community or an immigrant family to be viewed as inherently 'vulnerable'? I think it is offensive to lump together all members of these minority communities with those who would traffic, neglect or abuse children.

Many young people are 'disengaged' from the current education system, because it fails to meet their individual needs and because they know they are not safe from bullying in the school environment. This is not necessarily an indicator of increased risk outside of that environment.

3 Does the guidance accurately describe the range of circumstances that put children's safety at risk and puts them at risk of not receiving a suitable education?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

I think it is extremely unhelpful to conflate these two issues. The draft guidance repeatedly elides 'at risk of not receiving a suitable education' (already a highly subjective phrase) into 'at risk of not achieving the 5 Every Child Matters outcomes' or simply 'at risk' or 'vulnerable'.

Defining a wide range of circumstances as indicators of 'vulnerability' or 'risk' leads to the danger that all unorthodox choices will be viewed as suspicious or dangerous. Diversity in parenting and educational approaches is useful and valuable for society, and I do not agree with an approach that seeks to marginalise and stigmatise alternatives as this draft guidance does.

The five outcomes are not a test which children and parents will pass or fail. They are all open to wide ranging interpretation, and are only useful as a framework to support the development of services for families, not as a means of assessing parents.

In particular, I object to all home educators being subjected to additional investigations because of home education being mentioned as part of this list of people "more at risk of not receiving a suitable education" (para 3.3).

The mention of home education in this list is nonsensical. It says that "children whose parents withdraw them from school in order to home educate them but then fail to provide a suitable education;" are "more at risk of not receiving suitable education". Surely if it is already known that parents are not providing a suitable education, then these children are by definition not receiving a suitable education, not just at risk of this.

It seems likely to me that local authorities will interpret the inclusion of this point in the list as a green light to undertake an assessment of the education being provided by all home educating parents, and to view all home educated children as "more at risk of not receiving a suitable education".

As a member of a thriving home education community, filled with parents who are dedicated to providing their children with a rich, individually tailored education, I find this idea ludicrously offensive.

The whole concept of a list of groups who are "more at risk of not receiving a suitable education" is misguided. It is likely to lead to the exercise of prejudices, rather than sensitive support for individual children.

4 Does the guidance show effectively what steps local authorities should take when children are living in difficult circumstances that put them at more risk of not receiving a suitable education?

Answer/Comments

No. The draft guidance hops about from one area to another with no coherent structure. Having included home educated children in the list of those living in "difficult circumstances" it makes no reference to how local authorities should treat home educating families in the subsequent section of the document. This will lead to local authority officers applying their own (often inexperienced and ignorant) judgment as to whether home education should be considered 'suitable'.

According to the November 2007 guidelines on Elective Home Education, Local Authorities should have a senior officer who is trained to understand and respect the wide diversity of educational philosophies applied by home educating families, and who is well versed in the law in this area. Officers dealing with Children Missing Education should be advised to pass on to that officer contact details of families not previously known to be home educating. CME policy does not need to include any procedure for assessing the suitability of home education provision - it should just be about identifying the place of education for each child.

5 What are the key challenges local authorities could face to implementing these guidelines effectively?

Answer/Comments

The relationship between Section 436A and Section 437 of the 1996 Education Act is not self-evident and needs to be explained clearly in guidance.

As this draft stands, it leaves Local Authorities without a clear understanding of this difficult relationship. This will lead to serious confusion and the risk of possible legal challenges if local authorities misinterpret their duties and overstep their legal powers.

Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act sets out a clear equivalence in law between education provided at school and otherwise. Since education otherwise than at school is provided by a small minority of parents and is therefore not widely understood, there is a danger that members of the public, teachers, health service staff, social workers and other local authority officers may mistake children who are being lawfully educated otherwise for children who are missing education, simply because the children are not at school. An important function of this guidance, therefore, is to safeguard the freedom of parents to choose the legal option of home education as a means of fulfilling their duty under Section 7.

Section 437 already gives local authorities powers to take action if a child does not appear to be receiving a suitable education. These powers apply whether or not the child is registered at a school.

Section 436A does not give additional powers to local authorities to assess the suitability of education being provided to children, either at school or by their parents. It is simply about identifying those children whose parents are not undertaking to provide an education at all.

Because of the danger of mistaken identity mentioned above, this process needs to be undertaken sensitively and with regard to the right to privacy of families who may well be perfectly lawfully home educating.

I think the guidance should emphasise that all enquiries of parents where it is not known whether a child is receiving an education otherwise than at school should be made politely, and on the basis of a presumption of innocence.

The current draft falls far short of this kind of clarity, and could lead to distressing and unnecessary problems both for local authorities and for home educated children.

6 Does the guidance make clear the duties and powers that local authorities have in relation to home educated children when parents are not providing them with a suitable education?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

The draft guidance contradicts the guidelines on Elective Home Education issued by the DCSF in November 2007.

Paragraph 1.2.7 of the draft guidance states that "Local authorities have a duty to make arrangements to enable them to establish whether a child who is being educated at home (under section 7 of the Education Act 1997) is not receiving suitable education."

This appears to be an amalgamation of the duty to identify children missing education (s. 436A) and the duty to take action if it appears that a child is not receiving a suitable education (s. 437).

As such it is confusing and misleading. It will give local authorities the impression that they are required to assess the education being provided by all home educating parents.

As is made clear in the Elective Home Education Guidelines, there is no duty or power for local authorities to routinely monitor home educators. If it is not the intention of this guidance to introduce such a duty by the back door, then the references to home education need to be substantially redrafted.

The paragraphs that need to be changed are:

2.2, which suggests that local authorities should include "Date it was considered that home education provision was not suitable" as a data field in their database. This will have the effect of encouraging local authorities to believe that they have a duty to assess the education being provided by all home educating parents.

3.3, as mentioned above. There is no need to include home educators in this list, if the list is to be retained

5.1, which also encourages local authorities to assess the provision made by all home educating families.

6.17. If a child is receiving a suitable education at home, that child is not the target of this duty. This is not dependent on the local authority making an assessment and being satisfied that the education is suitable. Just as local authorities are not required to investigate the suitability of the education being received by children who are registered at school, there is no need for them to routinely assess the education received by children at home. This paragraph also states that local authorities have the power to issue a school attendance order if it appears that a parent is not providing a suitable education. This is not accurate; authorities must first issue a notice requiring the parents to satisfy them that the child is receiving a suitable education. Only if the parents do not respond to this notice with satisfactory information may the authority issue a school attendance order.

6.27, which again includes home educated children (with the meaningless caveat about the local authority not considering the education provided to be suitable) in a list of "vulnerable" groups. This leads directly (para 6.8) to an increased likelihood of home educators being visited out of the blue when they have recently arrived in an area, especially if their previous LA had difficulty understanding or accepting their educational philosophy. This kind of intervention is disturbing for children and damaging to parents' provision of a suitable education; it is not harmless when inappropriately undertaken, and should not be encouraged without good reason.

6.31, which has been badly drafted, so that it doesn't make sense.

7 Does the guidance contain all the 'signposts' to other relevant guidance; sources of support and advice for local authorities that will enable them to implement this duty effectively?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

As mentioned previously, the draft guidance refers to the DCSF guidelines on Elective Home Education, but effectively contradicts those guidelines by implying that local authorities have a duty to assess all home educators.

Given this approach of the draft guidance, it is especially unfortunate that there is no discussion of the legal definition of the term "suitable" in this context. While it is mentioned that "suitable education" means efficient, full time education suitable to the chid's age, aptitude and ability and any special needs the child may have, this is not prominent enough and there is no discussion of the case law definitions of "efficient" and "suitable" as there is in the EHE guidelines.

Local authorities should be encouraged (as they are in the EHE guidelines) to work with home education support organisations. Developing respectful relationships with the home education community is the most effective way to ensure that home educating families feel safe to use state services if they need to.

There is not enough information about Data Protection legislation and the question
of consent for data to be shared.

8 Beyond the publication of the guidance, what would be the most effective means of communicating the importance of implementing the new duty, and the processes that will help its implementation, to professionals working with children?

Answer/Comments

As advised by the 2007 EHE guidelines, local authority officers should undertake training to ensure that they understand and respect the wide diversity of educational approaches used by home educating families.

Publication of the draft guidance as it stands would have a negative effect on the appropriate implementation of the duty by local authorities. The existing 2007 guidance on CME should be allowed to remain in force and given a chance to be fully understood and incorporated into local policies.

9 Have you any details of good practice that would be useful to include in the final version of the 'guidance'?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked No Response

10 Did you find the draft guidance clear, unambiguous and easy to follow?

 Not Checked Yes

Checked No

 Not Checked Not Sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

I found the guidance to be muddled, highly ambiguous, and incoherent.

11 a) We have developed standard data definitions at Appendix 1 of the guidance. These were developed in consultation with several local authorities. Do you agree with these definitions?

 Not Checked Agree

Checked Disagree

 Not Checked Not sure

 Not Checked No Response

Answer/Comments

I do not agree with the definition of children who are not receiving a suitable education. It is perfectly possible for a child not to be receiving an education suitable to his/her age, aptitude and ability while on the roll of a school. Given that education at school and otherwise are legally equivalent, there is no reason for this definition to include a specific statement about the education being provided at home not being "suitable" when this is not included for education being provided at school.

I also don't agree with the proposed 'subsets', as it seems to me that these could be understood to include children who are in fact lawfully educated at home. Children who are never registered at school or whose parents choose to home educate them at a point of transition between one school and another are not necessarily missing education, nor are they necessarily 'refusing' to attend school or accept a school place.

I think the references throughout the document, and in these data definitions, to "Elective home education that is unsuitable in accordance with Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act;" are confusing and unhelpful. Either somebody is being educated in accordance with Section 7 or they are not. Whether or not they are registered at a school is irrelevant.

11 b) If not, what amendments would you suggest and why?

Answer/Comments

I think the first definition should say " "A compulsory school-age child who is not receiving efficient full-time education suitable—

(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and

(b) to any special educational needs he may have,

either by regular attendance at school or otherwise."