Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feeling anxious and odd this morning. Ali has to go into hospital tomorrow for his reversal operation. His experience in 2005 was so awful, I find it hard to relax and let the professionals do their jobs, because that experience showed me that they don't notice as quickly as I do when he is becoming ill, and they don't do the logical and sensible thing either.

Can't write, can't settle to anything. Have been playing solitaire and stupid internet games as a way of self distracting, just can't be. I don't think anyone reads this blog much (who can blame them, it's three months since I last posted?) but he's in T12 ward at University College Hospital, Euston Road, London NW1.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I've been doing family history research and research for my local Quaker meeting locally. Something that really alarms and upsets me about the state of education in the mainstream, is the number of libraries and intitutions which put gatekeepers on their online information.

Here I am not talking about new information written by their lecturers or students, but information from books long out of copyright, which the libraries have scanned into their computers and have online as a resource. These are things which cannot be damaged or affected by online access, which they are protecting with passwords, which you have to have in order to gain access to them.

I have often thought about writing an essay from the point of the cliched alien, an exercise so beloved of teachers, but when applied to education, showing up so many nonsensical things. Whose interest is served by blocking access to materials online which can only be of any interest or use to family historians or students of history? Who is being protected when the text is so far out of copright that even if I copied it, adapted it, printed it back to front or at a 90 degree angle there would be no one who could prevent me?

I just can't understand how institutions like the National Gallery or the National Portrait gallery can hold collections which belong to the nation and which are in safekeeping for the nation, can charge people for the privelege of taking photographs or using the image, even though it is lng out of date. How can that improve art education, or give access to the people who actually own the paintings - the people of the country?

Argh. Rant over.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Whe I saw the interactive website linked to the new Merlin series I was quite excited. It seemed like it might be a well-rounded experience.

Having watched the first episode tonight, I'm disappointed. This was drivel of the first order! I am amazed at what low standards the BBC seems to have nowadays. The writing was poor, the direction was poor, the acting was poor despite the inclusion of some very well respected actors.

The production didn't seem to know what time it was set in, having such a variety of inluences that we didn't know whether we were in the dark ages, medieval, later medieval or some magical mystery time which only exists in Disneyland, where you can have early medieval AND pretty windows.

When it came to speech and clothing, the designers seem to have abandoned the attempt to give it any historical period whatsoever and just threw in everything they had.

The music was intrusive and repetitive and heavily handedly indicated whether things were "comical" and amusing or not.

The special effects make up wasn't convincing from the very moment it was seen as the grieving witch confronted the king.

Everything had a plasticated artificial look, which was far too new and shiny and clean for the period *whichever* one you choose - obviously something that the designers found they couldn't do.

All in all I thought it was dumbed down fodder for the under 8s, which was anything but magical. I hate to think of how much money must have been expended on something which is so second rate. I'd rate it 3/10, but only because of John Hurt's voice.

Keep the magic secret? About the most magical thing is the website....

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Today is my fiftieth birthday. I've always been quite sanguine about the passage of time, feeling that a birthday was only a marker, another day in a stream of days... but fifty does seem so very old.

The trouble is, I think everyone is born a particular age. I have met eight-year-olds who seem to be forty and forty-year-olds who seem to be eight. I think my perfect age was around 25: throughout my childhood and teens I was constantly told that I seemed older than my years, and since my twenties people have told me I am young for my age; not in appearance but in attitudes and outlook.

That's my biggest problem, I can't seem to feel the way that one expects a fifty-year-old women to feel... I still want to walk barefoot in the park, watching the sunrise, find new things and do them, be silly, wear hippy clothing and dye my hair purple...or blue... or green. Not in a blue rinse sort of way.

I'm constantly mediating between the part of me that fears looking like 50 trying to be 20, in ruffled skirts and knotted beads, and the part of me that wants to say "sod it! who cares what people think?".

I think that once you get to a certain age, you can get away with anything... my mother wears pink and turquoise and looks amazing in it... but I think that there's a dangerous period for women between the end of your forties and the middle sixties where you can definitely look silly if you try to wear clothes or styles that are too young for you.

I was interviewed by an Australian the other day about things I had witnessed in Second Life and ended up feeling as old as Methusalah, even though my avatar is only 4 years old... but it made me realise what a lot I have observed in my life, that my children will never know. Mundane things like the move from black and white television which only broadcast part of the day, to the introduction of colour television, the start of the terrestrial channels like Channels 4 and 5, the change from telephone boxes on every corner to mobile phones in every pocket, the rise of he ATM for cash, the credit card for purchases.

The beginning of the internet... when I started blogging in 1998, I could find fewer than 10 English bloggers, and hardly any English websites apart from the BBC - which took ages to load and quite often failed because too many people were trying to get to the same page. Things have developed so fast, there are millions of bloggers of all nationalities, some blogging to camera now.

Sometimes I think that people are recording so much noise that future generations will find it very difficult to pick out the important stuff from the dross... what will the sum of human experience tell us about when someone's twitter stream really does appear to measure out their life in coffee cups? How many people throw away their email and who keeps their MSN messages. What does the level of recording achieve, except to feed the need we have to make our mark, leave some sign that we passed by and breathed for a while.

I've been considering the nature of fame and the responsibility we all have to do our best with our lives, recently, because I have been looking at the history of Uxbridge Quaker meeting and at the things which it is interesting to learn about that. It is a recitation of the famous people who visited Uxbridge, George Fox, William Penn, Elizabeth Fry, Kathleen Lonsdale, but it is clear from the things which are written in journals and accounts that there were a huge number of other people who contributed to the life of the meeting, who are unknown and unsung, but may have worked more powerfully for the good of the meeting or their fellow Quakers than the ones who are celebrated and well known.

I don't think we are called to become rich or famous or celebrated, and that's beyond the most of us anyway, all we are called upon to do is our best to live the things we believe, within our sphere of influence. If you can do that successfully then I think that's cause to celebrate - it's much harder to do that job if you do it as a housewife or road sweeper, than it is if you are a celebrated author or doer of great good works.

Anyway, I'm fifty. I expect I shall adjust to that idea over time, but I don't agree to put away my ruffled skirts or hair dye just yet awhile.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The BBC website carries a number of stories about girl violence, and the increase that has happened in the last couple of years.

I know I am probably a one track singer, but schools can take the blame for a lot of the changes in our culture. One of the researchers who is quoted by the BBC says that the peer group has a lot to do with it. It's only since we have had schools that there ha been such a thing as a peer group, really. Once upon a time it was what our community and our family did that we modelled in our behaviour, and now it is the peer group that we learn from and want to please.

The Govenment changes to schooling have not had the effect that they wished, of increasing the educational standards of the children who move through state schools. It has had a lot of unintended effects, from a increase in depression and suicide, an increasing number of exclusions and expellings, and an increase in the level of crime and disorder among both girls and boys.

If you look at schooling... REALLY look at it with a fresh mind as though you have been dropped on the planet by Alien Spaceship... you see a lot of dysfunctional social interaction which is ignored by the system. My son was bullied from the age of five until he left school at nine to be home educated. For a while I had to go into the school to put some cream on my other son's arm at breaktime, and I was horrified by the level of violence and bullying that I could see before my eyes on the playground.

There were two teachers, chatting away in the middle of a sea of children, but they seemed oblivious to the mayhem around them. They didn't interfere with children who were abusing each other unless there was blood or a child came to them directly. They were blind to it.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that girls are becoming more violent. It doesnt seem to me that schools particularly value caring and considerate children any more than other teenagers. If a child helps another at school that's labelled as cheating. Schools don't teach children to consider other people's feelings... in general they aren't terribly good at considering other people's feelings all.

I'm waiting for the powers-that-be to declare the SATs and National Curriculum a failure and to move onto plan B. One can only hope that one day they might turn to the free and democratic schools to see what they do right, and maybe eve to home educators.

Friday, August 01, 2008

I've found another blog I want to read. I followed a link to a profile on BoingBoing and thence to a blog. I love this writer... he seems to manage to contrive a similarly cluttered squalour such as the one I habitually work in. I too have a desk... ok, not a desk really, a coffee table, which is supposed to be the centre of writing operations and instead becomes a heap of things that were useful to me for a couple of minutes and then just got added to the pile.

Without moving I can see teetering piles of books, a box full of buttons, a mobile phone, a jar of hair wax, two glasses, a cup, a bottle of sparkling water, various family photographs, my blood pressure medication, a book on the mystic Edgar Cayce, an apple core, leaflets about the Wellcome Collection and an A to Z pocket edition, vitamin tablets, caster oil with real lavender in it, a candle in a tin, a large notebook, a stuffed doll, papers, an itouch, cables to attach the itouch to the computer... that's just the coffee table. It's no wonder I never get on with my writing.

I've always thought that the message of all the fairy tales was: be careful what you wish for. I often long for a room of my own, with a desk and either paper and pencil or keyboard and no distractions. I try hard not to yearn for it too much in case I find myself locked into just such a room at same point in the future, with no chance of parole.

Mind you the rate I am collecting blogs I read, I shan't have much time for getting into trouble....

Friday, July 25, 2008

OK, I'm on a roll of housewifely blogs... through a link on the Frugal Upstate blog, I find this scary looking "Home Ec 101". Except maybe I am coming to a time in my life where I really, REALLY need to read this sort of stuff.

You know what? Some people have too much time on their hands. That's all I am saying. Really.
Recommended rice bags to Eelco, and found this great webpage called Frugal Upstate, whch has directions in it, and also a lot of blogs about doing things frugally.

Will be back to read it in detai, but meanwhile, here's the post about ricebags.
I am starting to feel that I am being left behind by the speed of progress currently. BoingBoing links to a blog where patches for clothing are about to be sold, which will allow people to use their shiny new iPhones to scan in your patch and discover your website, or blog or youtube video.

One of the useful things about virtual worlds has been this ability to click on objects and find the link to a company's or individual's website. And here it is, in real life.

I spent a long time the day before yesterday transferring the blogs from my oooold website which I discovered on the WayBayMachine, to a new blog here, imaginatively called MyOldBlogs. I will tidy them up, and add some more explanation... and maybe I will even have the time to add some of the paper diaries which are fading fast too. It was a weird experience going back 10 years in time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ali is due to have his colonoscopy this afternoon. He had to take mega doses of laxative last night, hasn't had anything to eat since 4pm yesterday, and now can't drink again until after the procedure. I wish there was something I could do to protect him from this, would take his place in an instant... but I can't.

To keep my mind from obsessing about it, watched Bonekickers from last night on the BBCiPlayer. You know how things can look sooo good on a trailer and then within a millisecond of starting to watch an episode you can tell that they are sooo bad? This is one of those.

The plot is ludicrous... they didn't just invent a love affair between Boudicca and a Roman soldier, but also suggested that the Roman had kept her secretly in a chamber below the Roman baths in Bath, and had invented an incendiary bomb many centuries in advance of their actual invention AND that he was responsible for the burning of Rome in revenge for the death of his mistress.

The acting is poor and the writing too... actually they crammed a whole series worth of plot and backstory into the space of one hour long episode, and in places this required the actors to deliver an incredible amount of completely fantastical information at a rate of knots. There was a backstory element of a romance between two of the characters which didn't ring true... they didn't behave like people with a history. And there was a lot of banter between rugged professor and young student which would have a real student running for the forms to report him for sexual harrassment... it seemed old fashioned, and inappropriate. He wasn't even witty about it.

The sets were so dreadful, I could have done better with a bit of plaster of paris and a roomful of children... in places it definitely won the award for the least convincing rock and stone in the history of television.

You know how sometimes things are so bad, they're almost good? This isn't like that. It's obvious the people involved have no faith or belief in their product, they simply contrived a television series out of a formula. On paper it might have looked good. On the screen it did NOT.

I cannot believe that the BBC has sunk to this level of awful... didn't anyone see how bad it was? You begin to lose faith in the BBC to withstand the commercial pressures upon it when they broadcast something so unremittingly bad that I can find nothing good to say about it.

And if I spoiled the plot for anyone... you can thank me later for having prevented you from wasting a whole hour of your life.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Some weeks ago, BoingBoing encouraged Europeans to write to their MEPs to vote against a new measure which suggested that people should be disconnected from the internet if accused three times of copyright infringement.

As I good Boingette, I wrote to the MEPs who represent me, and I have now had two replies which will probably only be of interest to those who encouraged the writing in the first place! I reproduce the two emails I received in reply below, with my original email below them. I have removed my address and email address.

Dear Fiona,

Thank you for your email. I apologise for the delay in replying.

I believe that you may be referring to two sets of amendments by me and
by my Conservative colleague Malcolm Harbour. My amendments were simply
intended to allow traffic data to be processed to ensure the security of
electronic communications networks, services and equipment. It was not
my intention with my amendments, for "the security of an electronic
communication equipment" to be interpreted as "the security of DRM
preventing, detecting, or intercepting IP infringements" as suggested by
some. However, I asked for legal clarification on whether a possible
unintended consequence of my amendment would be to allow DRM and
interception of IP infringements. Since I did not receive a satisfactory
answer I asked to withdraw the amendment in order to re-introduce it at
plenary with a clarification on the definition of "security". I was
unable to withdraw it, so recommended a vote against. In the event, IMCO
committee did not vote on my amendment.

Malcolm Harbour is very clear that his amendments are not designed to
start a "three strikes and you are out" law. I certainly would not
support ISPs being forced to do the work of law enforcement agencies.
Also, I do not believe in collective punishment where because one family
member has been judged to download illegal material the whole household
loses its connection to essential services such as shopping, banking,
communications etc. Malcolm tells me that "as opposed to the text
proposed by the Commission, his amendments shift the burden of
explaining the law from the ISPs to the appropriate national
authorities. It also broadens the concept so that any type of unlawful
activities are covered, not only copyright infringement. Such other
activities could be for example child pornography. This public interest
information would be prepared by the relevant national authority and
then simply distributed by the ISP to all their customers. It involves
no monitoring of individual customer usage of the internet."

Malcolm Harbour totally rejects the claims that these amendments are
intended to reduce consumer choice and undermine individual freedom. In
particular, the Directive contains no provisions on Copyright Law
enforcement, not does it refer, in any way, to the French Government's
proposed enforcement agreement.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me.



Conservative MEP for London

>Dear Ms Berry,

Thank you for your e-mail concerning the vote on the 'telecoms package'
and the screening of internet connections.

Several of Parliament's Committees have been examining the telecoms
package. The report you are referring to - the universal service and user
rights directive - is being examined by the Internal Market Committee.
The Committee voted on Monday 7th July.

I have been following this legislation closely, although as a Member of
the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee, I
wasn't able to vote on the amendments you raised.

I can tell you that I am strongly against the disconnection of internet
connections without any judicial oversight. Internet connections are
often shared and so the disconnection of one internet connection can
often affect other innocent users. The internet is becoming particularly
important for media freedom and media pluralism; as such disconnection
can have a large and disproportionate effect. I believe there are far
more effective ways of tackling intellectual property violations online.

You might be interested to know that the European Parliament voted on a
resolution in April, by my French colleague Guy Bono, which made
reference to the disconnection of internet connections. I voted against
the screening and disconnection of internet connections in this report.

I have spoken to my colleagues on the Internal Market Committee and
thought you might be interested in a bit of background on the vote.

The Committee strongly backed proposals to enhance users´ rights and data
protection in electronic communications networks. There are a lot of
positive measures in this report.

The key rights and improvements include:

* a one day limit, down from up to one month, to transfer your
number when you switch networks;
* guaranteed information from operators, before contracts are
about any restrictions on access to services (VoIP etc);
* information on the cost of terminating agreements early (with such
costs limited to cases involving a subsidised handset);
* guaranteed equivalent access to communications for disabled
users, with
special terminal equipment for their needs;
* information for subscribers in the event of any breach of their
personal data through electronic networks;
* guaranteed access to the European 112 emergency call number
across the
EU; and
* availability of mobile caller location across Europe when emergency
calls are made.

The Committee also agreed on the need to keep the Internet open by
empowering regulators to intervene if a carrier discriminates against a
service provider by blocking or slowing traffic.

To help keep citizens informed online, regulators in each Member State
are empowered to develop standardised public service messages for users,
which could include security protection advice, and advice on harmful or
unlawful uses of the Internet, and their potential consequences. The
information would be sent to all users, not to targeted individuals and
not based on the monitoring of individual's use of the internet.

I am informed by my colleagues on the Committee that this directive
contains no provisions on the enforcement of intellectual property rights
online. The report encourages regulatory authorities to promote
appropriate cooperation to ensure lawful online activity. This does not
seek to promote or prescribe any enforcement regime, which would be
beyond the appropriate scope of the Directive.

However, one amendment by Conservative MEP Syed Kamall does introduce
potentially dangerous ambiguity in the field of privacy protection
online. This amendment was opposed by the Labour Group of MEPs but
adopted by a narrow majority in the Civil Liberties Committee.

Under the Parliament's rules this text dealing with data protection was
adopted without a vote in the Internal Market Committee since it was
already adopted in the Civil Liberties Committee. Labour MEPs have called
for its withdrawal before the final report is adopted by the full sitting
of Parliament in September.

Thank you for raising these issues with me. I will continue to follow
them closely.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Honeyball MEP

> This message was also sent to: Syed Kamall MEP, John Bowis OBE MEP,
> Jean Lambert MEP, Charles Tannock MEP, Robert Evans MEP, Claude Moraes
> MEP, Gerard Batten MEP, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP
> Fiona Berry
> Address and email removed
> Sunday 6 July 2008
> Dear Gerard Batten, Robert Evans, Syed Kamall, Charles Tannock, Jean
> Lambert, Claude Moraes, Baroness Sarah Ludford, John Bowis OBE and Mary
> Honeyball,
> I am writing to you collectively as my representatives in the European
> Parliament, in order to protest about the "three strikes" rule being
> introduced into the telecoms bill, which would result in anyone being
> accused three times of copyright infringement being banned by ISPs.
> As a virtual architect in the world of Second Life, I am only too aware
> of the difficulty in establishing copyright in material online, and the
> ease with which anyone can invoke a DMCA takedown wihout any
> pre-existing ownership or right of copyright. I think this proposal to
> ban someone on the basis of three accusations is ill-founded and
> unworkable, and will lead to a tremendous amount of additional cost for
> the consumer.
> I think that universal access to the internet has the potential for
> great and positive steps forward for mankind; I do not wish to see
> restrictions imposed which will limit this. I think the principle of
> universal access to the internet should be maintained. I urge you to
> vote against the inclusion of this measure.
> Yours sincerely,
> Fiona Berry

Friday, April 18, 2008

I've been pondering on the nature of existence. Virtual worlds have a tendency to make you think I feel... my mother insists that the friends I have there are not real friends because I have only met them virtually... as far as she is concerned only people I have met in real life can qualify as friends.

I tried to explain to her that the people I meet in Second Life may actually be people I know more deeply than in real life; it's hard to say. In real life people are distracted by what they can see of you, your gender, size, attractiveness, age, accent, the way you dress, how you cut your hair, the shoes you wear, the choices you make about the way you look - all those things can attract or repel, interest or bore people.

It is true that people can pretend to be people they are not, and can conceal truths about themselves online or in a virtual space, that would be obvious in real life. My avatar is an attractive 25 year old in Second Life and I would not be able to sustain that for a minute in real life... but she represents a purer version of me, in that in Second Life I can be myself, stripped of all the baggage I carry in real life, and also separate from things that are my roles and responsibilities, like being a mother, daughter, etc.

I love being a mother, adore my children, have deeply enjoyed them and their company while they grow up, but even so, the idea of having a space where I do not have to consider that part of my life, is attractive.

Some years ago, a friend's son was ill with meningitis. While the crisis was going on, they were too taken up with the necessity of looking out for him to involve their friends... and look out for him they did... the father grabbed the telephone and demanded that the pediatrician on duty for the accident and emergency department they found themselves in should come and see to their son: this may have saved his life.

He was ill and they found it hard to trust the hospitals, as I have done. I went to help them one day, just to offer some support, as did others on different days. I felt like I stepped out of my life in that day, and joined them in their world, and at the end of it I was able to step back into my life again.

I think of myself as being basically the same person that I was when young... but then I didn't have or know the children, and many people who were important to me then, bosses and co-workers, friends and people I saw every day, I haven't seen or heard from in years and years.

It's hard to know until they perfect time travel, and even if they did, I'm sure there would be rules against meeting yourself in time... oh ignore me, I've lost the thread of what I was saying.

The nature of being, the nature of knowing people, the nature of knowing yourself... they're all things which fascinate me. I used to explore a lot in Second Life... and learned a lot about myself too. I made the mistake of hijacking someone else's IP before I knew better, and realised fast that I didn't want to be that person (once someone pointed out the error of my ways).

I am more changeable and volatile in virtual worlds than in real life... in real life I have a tendency to let everything wash over me. In Second Life I don't. Which is the real me?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Feeling a bit shellshocked this morning. Got back from the teen challenge to find that various people had been trying to get hold of me and had assumed I was not answering the phone or ill. I felt wrecked, completely wrecked, although I had spent most of my time in a warm art room, silk painting or making hangings for the peace tree.

I have been offered a holiday or a job or both in Turkey. Still trying to absorb that information and to work out if it is the chance of a lifetime or something that I ought to be cautious about. The place looks amazing. I haven't been on a holiday for years... I think Kate was about four or so the last time we went on holiday, and I haven't been outside the country for over 18 years.

Eelco suggests I should meet the people concerned, and offers to take me to Berlin to meet them. So I am reeling from one generous offer to another at present.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Things have been very odd over the weekend. John lost the key to the electricity meter and so we have been in candlelight... it isn't that we don't have power, but we are afraid that it will run out and leave us in the cold if we use it. And boy, is it cold. It's been snowing and sleeting today, although the sun is warm now, I know it will get very cold again once the sun goes down.

So I feel semi-Victorian... realising how easy it is to misinterpret things in amongst the shadows... and how easy to set your hair on fire. Hope we can get a replacement tomorrow or we're really up the creek without a paddle.
The easiest Banana ice Cream in the world
Freeze chopped banana.

Blend it with a spoonful of milk of cream.

That's it! It needs to be eaten quickly or it melts.... If you use ripe bananas, then they taste very sweet. Can be used as a basis for banana milkshake - much MUCH nicer than the commercial types.

You may wish to make a lot of this, and buy ripe bananas when they are cheap. If you do, be sure to layer the banana, if possible with greased greaseproof. DON'T use foil because it sticks to the frozen banana, and you don't want blended foil in your ice cream or milkshake.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The BBC reports on a report from Whistleblower about nurseries, which dovetails nicely with my earlier posting about a woman who couldn't understand why friends thought she shouldn't put her five month old baby into a nursery in order to go back to work full time.

The shocking news that children are not well looked after in many of the nurseries around the country is not news. Even if you had the best nursery nurses in the country, a one to 13 ratio between the nursery nurses and babies makes it impossible for them to do anything but crisis control. They can't look after the babies properly.

Any parent knows that it can be a full time job to look after one baby properly and meet their needs. The idea that one person can do that for 13 babies is laughable. All over the country, in nurseries good and bad, children are lacking stimulation, lying in wet and dirty nappies.

My Quaker meeting in Uxbridge leases out the old building to a nursery during the week, and many of the older members regard this as tantamount to a social service. It's a dark building with high windows though. I would not have left any of my children there. I don't know whether the people there are good, bad or indifferent nursery nurses, but the building is totally unsuitable as a nursery. If the OFSTED inspectors were doing what the general public expect that they should, they'd have closed it down.

As a society, children have a low priority for many people, and our society's Victorian attitude that children ought to be quiet and not disrupt life for the adults is pervading everywhere. Mothers are being made to feel that they are odd or even destructive if they want to be with their children and particularly if they wish not to work in order to care for their children.

It's astonishing to me that there are not more tragedies involving children in nurseries. The biggest tragedy though will not emerge for some years, when these children become parents themselves and begin to inflict what happened to them on their own babies.

In a rich country like the UK, we have the opportunity to be giving our children a much richer childhood than their ancestors experienced. Instead, we are giving them money and things bought at the expensive of shoving them into nurseries as babies and schools to be tested to destruction throughout their childhoods. It's nuts.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bought the Grauniad for the first time in a long time. Found my blood pressure rising: funny how that doesn't happen with the online versions of the newspapers... I supposed that if I come across a view I don't have time for I tend to flee to another page rather than allowing my feelings to build up.

There were two stories that particularly caught my attention... the first was about the lack of parental choice for schools. It's not that I disagree particularly with what is written in the article, it's just that I think it is so shortsighted to think about education in terms of schools nowadays. With the advent of 3D worlds anything is possible - you can make education enjoyable and entertaining, personalise it, engage pupils in it. People of all ages are continually learning and the old fashioned idea of schools as places where children go for six hours a day, which stand idle for the other 18 hours, is such an old fashioned and wasteful idea.

I'd like to see learning centres which can be used by everyone... money going into facilitators for education instead of teachers in the old fashioned sense... children given choices and the chance to do art -- or music -- or mechanics -- or dance all day every day if they want to. individualised, personalised education which can teach children the things they need to know... which isn't a lot of facts and figures, but skills and the use of their curiosity. I truly believe that we are going to think that schools are SO 20th, or even 19th century.

A letter was responsible for my rising blood pressure really. In it a woman says that she is going back to work full time and putting her baby into a workplace nursery and she cannot understand why friends are shocked that she isn't working part time instead.

For a long time I have lived by the premise that we can't tell other people what it is right to do, and I stand by that. I don't wish to tell this woman that she ought not to be putting her child in a nursery and going back to work. Hell, for all I know she might turn into a baby battering horror mother if she didn't go back to work. But not telling other people what to do doesn't mean that I don't have an opinion. My opinion is that if you are all right with dropping your precious baby into the hands of strangers, in a place where he will not get one-to-one care (or even one to two or one to three in all likelihood) then you are not properly bonded with your baby.

It's an unfashionable thing to say, and it conflicts with the idea of having an open mind about such things. But honestly, I DON'T have an open mind about childcare. My minds is made up. Children need a dedicated parent to look after them, especially in the first year. They ought to have their needs met by someone who loves them, not someone who is paid to look after them. I feel angry that government tries to convince parents that it is not just ok but a positive thing to leave your children in the care of others. It isn't.

There is good research available that also shows that later, when children are three or four years old, they do better in more or less every way if they spend their time with a dedicated adult who loves them than in an institution, no matter how good, or how well funded a facility. Two researchers some time ago set out to show how positive nurseries were for children aged four. They studied children in nurseries and those who stayed at home with their mothers and expected to show that the children in nurseries had an academic advantage and a social advantage over the others. In fact, they proved the reverse.

Communication in the home is usually two way, and parent make an effort to put things into context for children, referring to things they have done, or things they have shared in an attempt to give what they are talking about context. Children ask questions, and receive most of the information in the form of conversation.

In schools, children tend to restrict their questions to practical things: Where are the scissors? Can I go to the bathroom? Can I use the paintbrushes? One of the first things they learn in a group environment is that it isn't always safe to ask questions, and they learn that pretty damn fast. Often, even when questions are appropriate they find it hard to speak up.

People, particularly those in the pay of the government, talking of children being independent, as though it were possible to force independence on them before they are ready. You can't. I think the growing incidence of selective mutism in schools which I have noticed through the rising number of questions asked on mailing lists and noticeboards is a marker of the discomfort that many children feel on being forced into a formal learning institution much too early - in most cases nowadays nursery is beginning at 3 and school is beginning at 4 in the UK.

I think that our society is paying a price for poor advice to parents. This can only get worse.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I have always like the clothes made by 1647, which is a mail order company which caters for women of goddess proportions. It was there that I turned to when I needed some special clothes for a presentation a few months ago, when my sister generously offered to pay for them.

I will admit that we may have made life confusing for them, because although my sister signed up for and paid for the clothes, I was the one with the account and the email. However, the clothes didn't come and didn't come, I gave up and bought some elsewhere, and when the clothes eventually appeared, I refused to take delivery of them, knowing that I would be returning them all.

That was when the fun really started. Although the company accepted the return and credited my sister with the money, as they had charged her twice for the clothes they sent, the net effect was a charge on her credit card for the total amount. Emails passing to and from the company didn't help... they just stated and restated that they had provided a refund for the money. Obviously, no one could be bothered to look at the actual information and just checked the one transaction all the time.

I become so desperate to have them treat me like a real sentient human being and not like an idiot, that i even resorted to emailing Dawn French's agent, Dawn French being one of the owners of 1647. I knew it wasn't appropriate, but by that stage I didn't care, I just wanted to get my sister the money back for the clothing I hadn't seen and hadn't had.

My sister got to the point where she had to put it in the hands of her credit card company, and eventually she got a full refund for both transactions. I didn't get a whisper of an apology, and neither did she. In fact the tone throughout was that we were a nuisance.

The episode was over and I let it go, but was somewhat astomished when, as few months later, 1647 contacted me with an email to tell me that they had set me up a new account to coincide with the opening of their new shiny website. I didn't want an account with their new shiny website because, although I hanker after their clothing, I don't trust the company, and so I wrote unsubscribing. And wrote and demanded and then eventually contacted their host company to complain. The nice young man there unsubscribed and said that the problem was that the name of the account on the 1647 mailing list was my sister's name and not mine, and so they had therefore ignored my instructions to remove my email address from the list.

I felt much more antagonistic towards them, but I let it go. But now... now I am receiving spam email addressed to my sister. And the ONLY people who have her name attached to my email is 1647. Obviously, they have sold my details on. And I am not happy about that, not at ALL.

So, love the clothes, hate the company. You've been warned.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I just realised that this blog isn't at all what it says on the bottle... I have hardly written at all about being a home educator, and even less about being the mother of a son with Crohn's disease. Drat it!

I will get around to that soon.
The BBC carries a story that children are damaged by materialism... then when you visit the page, it appears that the story is not that children are damaged by materialism, but that parents think that they are. They blame the advertisers. The people commenting are prone to blame the parents.

I don't feel this is a new story. We have a mess of cultural values and society isn't any surer about what messages should be conveyed than schools or parents. Often, the message which gets conveyed isn't one which is agreed and disseminated, it is the spirit of the age which comes across.

In my teens, the message appeared to be "Don't be just a wife and mother! Don't work in Woolworths!" I thought I knew all about being a wife and mother: my brother and sister we 13 and 15 years younger than me respectively, and my mother was ill forsome years after my stepfather left. It was years before I discovered how fulfilling children could be, that it is a two-way relationship with a lot of love in return, and how challenging and how amazingly interesting it can be. And I worked out that we needed shop assistants and road sweepers just as much as we needed professors of English or Physics.

As a society we pump children with the idea of aiming for academic success from the moment they step through the door... and we quietly ignore the fact that people are complex organisms with complex talents and abilities, in favour of a world where only your academic ability is important. Children and teenagers are given a one-dimensional rule to measure themselves against, and no matter how loving, creative, helpful, astute they are, if they do not attain in that one area, they are made to feel like a failure and on the road to ruin.

Children adopt their own measures of success, and those generally are materialistic, because they measure their own happiness and success in materialistic terms quite early on. They are deluded of course, because being given what you want when you want it doesn't turn out happy human beings, it turns out spoiled ones. Being given what you need doesn't necessarily equate with what you desire. Often the opposite is true.

Children though, reflect our values and we all have to take the blame for that. The heroes who are revered in our society are generally not the people who are up in the night looking after the elderly, or the people who visit the sick. They are footballers and film stars and rock bands. They are people with money, and things.

The values of our world are not something separate from us: become the change you would like to see in the world, as Ghandi said. There is no way of imposing what you think children should be like, if you cannot attain that for yourself. That's how it appears that what our society says it values and what it actually values are two different things.

To change the way things are, we actually have to value everybody, and to recognise that not everyone will be an academic success, but that doesn't mean they can't be a success. We are rapidly evolving a world where lack of academic success will prevent a child from achieving success in every arena, because nursing, and art, and even becoming a mechanic or a plumber have been woven around with so many academic requirements that people with a vocation for nursing or art or mechanics or plumbing will be prevented from achieving success in those areas too.

Changing society's attitudes means acknowledging everyone as important to the whole, and recognising that the most important, most effective and most valuable member of an organisation may just be the cleaner and not the managing director. Who would want to use a hospital that wasn't clean?

My feeling is that we sleepwalk our way through life, unaware of the influences upon us, and accepting as our own beliefs things which are only propaganda. In many ways I see mass schooling as an essential part of that process. Much of what it teaches has nothing at all to do with qualifications and fitting us for adult life. A great deal has to do with striving to be somewhere else, able to consume more, constantly wanting to be better and more than we are at present. In moderation that can be positive, in excess it leads to people burning themselves out in the city in order to make ever more money.

In the end money has been the aim and end of education for a very long time. Why not work in Woolworths? Because it is a waste of talent and you don't earn much. It is like working at McDonald's, shorthand for a dead end job. This assumes that everyone is equally able, and everyone should be equally ambitious for something other than working in Woolworths... as does our school system.

We'd need to work on some fundamental assumptions to be able to overcome the drive to attain and the drive to be more, earn more, get more than other people. We'd need to understand that people are all different and have different roles to play, and we'd have to acknowledge that academic ability isn't the whole story. I don't know that we're ready for that yet. I don't know if the educational experts we've put in charge of education are ready to acknowledge that yet.

I do believe that the rise of virtual worlds will lead to a shift in our values and I think this is already reflected in the virtual worlds that exist today. People are surprisingly helpful, generous and kind. People can be individuals and pursue their own type of world (as long as legal). Helping others is seen as positive, rather than cheating by the person being helped. I think we are more ready to acknowledge the differences between people and to be tolerant of them than in real life. My hope is that as the virtual worlds evolve, in a place where material goods can't help or hinder, people will wake up to the sort of place we are making in the real world, and change it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's such a beautiful day today. The sky is a bright pastel blue with fluffy white clouds, just like the beginning of the Simpsons. The snowdrops are out, the crocus are through and shiny green leaves are growing in our terracotta pots. It looks as though it may be the calm before the storm, however, with storms and snowfall predicted for the end of the week.

Apart from a brief flurry last year, my children have begun to suspect that all predictions of snow are lying or mistaken, at least for our part of London. For years they brought out our two sledges and polished the runners when there were forecasts of snow... and for years the sledges went back into storage, their runners still pristine and shiny.

We see the snowfalls in other parts of the country, watch the news bulletins with roads clogged by skidding cars, or lorries stuck in snowdrifts, but generally the most we can expect are a few flurries and then wet pavements underfoot. I'm sure I am going to get to the age where this is a blessing... but they aren't ready for that yet.

It's the reason why, having promised my daughter faithfully that I would wake her up if there ever looked like a chance of snow settling, I found myself on a walk through Uxbridge at about 4am on the one day last February when, for a short while, snow settled in any quantity. If the snow settles here over the weekend, I shall no doubt find myself on a similar walk.

It's easy to moan and complain about the cold and the snow, but there is something very special about going out into a world made new by the white covering, making new footprints, and having those disappear as new snow falls on old.

There is something magical about the way that the sound is deadened, and things seem quiet and still under new snowfall. I still remember the winter of 62/63 with the heavy snowfall, and I have pictures of myself returning from a walk with my grandmother after particularly heavy snow. I remember going for a walk around the Green at Croxley Green, and falling into ditches where the snow was deeper than me. I had a wonderful time, aged about four, though I remember getting very cold and wishing that I could be warm and out in the snow.