Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wonderful round up of the current review of home education on Jem's blog here.

The point is: they had already made their minds up... and are having a bloody time trying to prove that they have the evidence they say they have. But the way this government behaves, will that matter?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Looking forwards to the past

I must admit that before I studied the stone age with my children, I had a very Hollywood or cartoon vision of the people. I studied the stone, bronze and iron age at school, but had the impression that the people were brutish and barbarian, and not at all the intelligent people that we like to think we are.

I knew that the monuments and circles like Stonehenge were designed to line up with the movements of the sun, without ever questioning how on earth primitive man, with no compasses, clock or calendars could possibly have found this information.

A night under the stars, watching for meteor showers and talking with my children about the life of the stone age people who lived in our garden, taught me more than months of lessons in school. I realised that I would be an ignorant townie and probably starve if dropped into the stone age world of flint knapping and hunting deer. Or die of poisoning, eating the wrong berries or plants. Or die of exposure, unable to build a house without a ready supply of bricks and mortar from a local Wickes (which is itself built over a bronze age habitation).

I realised that the people of that time were not much different from us in appearance or intelligence, but they had to be educated to be able to do most things for themselves... a man would have to be able to make his own weapons and tools, build his own house, make his own clothes, catch his own food. Their intelligence wasn't less than our is, but it was all directed towards survival skills and being able to do all the necessary things oneself. Goodness what happened if you got sick or hurt. Well... you died, if you didn't have close family to look after you.

In today's world you can go through life quite incapable of catching or killing your meals, unable to identify plants and herbs, unable to build houses, make your own clothes, or even cook our own food.

In their world, there was a magical didn't waste anything, and used whatever was the appropriate tool for the job. In our world, we have become careless of the raw materials we have at our disposal, and unthinking about throwing away anything which doesn't serve our needs at the moment.

This is a change which happened only recently: my grandmother never threw away a useable jar, piece of string or elastic band. She remembered a world without packaging, where you took your own jug to the inn for beer or bag to the grocers for eggs, and the world of the second world war, with rationing and shortages of sugar and meat.

Our modern world became blase with plastic and oil and we have frittered away the resources which in years to come we may be held to account for. Our morass of plastic which washes up in the stomachs of albatross chicks inadvertently fed poison by their parents. Plastic tags, trashy plastic toys, plastic bottles, plastic bags and packaging and useless little tokens of our throwaway society. For years, because we haven't had to think about where our food is coming from, where our next piece of plastic is coming from, we haven't thought at all... I recently heard a talk on radio about how our grandchildren may regard our profligate use of the worlds resources on stupid bits of unnecessary plastic... you used it...for what!? to hold new pairs of socks together? To attach price tags?

My feeling is that while we think our lives are full of worry and economic angst, we are probably living now in the richest and least worried state of all time and will look back with envy at a time when - in the west - we don't have to struggle to survive. I don't believe the doomsday predictions about 2012, but that's not to say that I don't think the Maya knew what they were talking about: it is the end of one age, and the beginning of another, and it is possible that there are changes ahead whether due to climate change caused by us or climate change caused by natural cycles or climate change caused by the end of an astronomical phase ending in pole shifts and disasters... but which ever way, we will begin to see changes caused by the climate shifting.

We need to change back, to go back to being people who conserve the things they have, who know about the natural world and what burns/doesn't burn, what can be eaten/can't be eaten and how to use old tech to do the things we want, in case new tech lets us down.

I found this website, Primitive Ways, which has lots of information about making your own baskets or tanning your own hides, and also a fascinating article about the belt which the iceman Otzi carried with him on his last journey cross the pass in the mountains. It reminded me how wrong I was to regard early man as ignorant or unintelligent, for what intelligence there was in the things that he carried and the things that he'd made.

That's not to wish us all back to the stone age in the years to come, but to hope that we learn to apply some of the economy and intelligent use of resources that were a necessary feature of those times.

Unfortunately I fear that the tragedy of the commons indicates that we may postpone taking action until it is far too late - and by taking action I am not just talking about recycling and using low energy light bulbs, but planning for rising sea levels, changing food production methods and a world where maybe nothing will happen at the touch of a button, and we may need to learn to be responsible for ourselves.

Einstein is quoted as having said: I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

I think he would have imagined a fight between two worldly powers, and not a fight against environmental changes, but if we get it wrong, he's right anyway. It's back to the stone age.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My version of a Unicorn chaser...

Ok, it takes me quite a long time to get up a head of steam on anything... I am a relaxed live-and-let live sort of person usually. But this has to be the giddy limit as my grandmother would have said: Watford Council are banning parents from supervising their children in playgrounds.

I think there is a danger to our children from people - mostly men - who prey upon them sexually. Yes, yes, I know women do too, as a notorious case which recently went to court shows very clearly... but in 20 years of working in a legal department, my sister has never come across a single case, where she has seen thousands involving men. The number of women involved is tiny.

If you look at the proportion of people in gaol for any reason, and how many of those are men and how many are women, the truth is that there are 20 times as many men, even though you are more likely to be sent to gaol as a women if you are taken to court, and for lesser offences.

The point is... even though more men offend than women do, you are still twenty times more likely not to be an offender, and children are more at risk from accidents and poor supervision than from sex offenders. Even then, I would say a child who cannot be supervised by their parent will be more at risk from an offender than they would be if other parents were in the park.

I think this decision by Watford Council sends out all the wrong messages: parents can't be trusted, children are better off with stranger professionals than their parents, and all people must be regarded as offenders until proven otherwise.

I hate HATE it. I didn't consider myself to be the sort of person to say this, but this country is going to the dogs. The RSPCA-organised, bolt-gun executed dogs.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I wonder if there will ever be a time when the date of September 11 goes back to being an ordinary day? I don't think so, not in my lifetime. It was the day which seemed to be the end of the world, when everywhere seemed vulnerable. Thousands of miles away from New York, it seemed to me that if New York and the Pentagon weren't safe, there weren't many places that were....

I asked my daughter what memories she had of the day, but she was six then, and barely understood what was happening. I remember them asking me if what was happening was close to us, and I told them no, it was in America a long way away, and their interest in it dwindled. Only I was transfixed to the screen, fighting the impulse to phone my family and tell them what I had seen. I wanted so much to make contact with them, but I realised immediately this was a world-changing event, as soon as the second plane hit. I realised the the invulnerable place America had occupied was gone.

It seemed dangerous to be anywhere near a city, because we couldn't see how big this thing was, initially. Would it be a continual series of plane hijacks and crashes all over the world, against western targets? Would London be next, or Paris, or Rome? Initially I just assumed that they had chartered an aircraft and crashed it - I didn't realise the horror of the event for some days. Then I had a dream some nights later, of being in one of the planes, and I felt the letting go, the calm, realising there was nothing I could do, nothing that could stop the plane crashing, and feeling it wheel under me and crashing.

It felt like there was nowhere safe for a long time, and for months I looked up if I heard the sound of an aircraft. Being in London, near tall buildings seemed dangerous for a long time. It's hard to explain how it seemed on that day... hard even for me to remember how those events made me feel unsafe, even though I was a long way away from the bright autumn morning, the smoke and the dust.

I wanted information, wanted more and more and more, maybe a morbid curiosity, I don't know, I needed to feel that "they" were telling us what was happening... that I would know if planes were going to suddenly drop out of the sky in Europe too. Maybe that should be a selfish curiosity, but in fact I felt immense and overwhelming empathy for the people caught up in the real life events in New York and the Pentagon and elsewhere that day.

I knew, without a shadow of a doubt that there were good people facing terrible choices when they started to jump, and that there were brave and wonderful people caught up in the towers when they collapsed. It was obvious that the people left in the building must have been the rescuers, the firefighters and the paramedics, those who were trapped and those who chose to stay behind to help them. It was easy to empathise, seeing everything firsthand through the medium of television and the internet... knowing that what I saw was as real to me as someone living thirty or forty miles away from the twin towers.

That feeling that we were under threat diminished in the weeks and months, until the bombings in London revived the feelings again, but even then I didn't feel that same end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it feeling I'd been overwhelmed with on September 11. With each passing year, it fades for me, but of course I know that isn't likely to be true for the people who witnessed or experienced it first hand, or lost someone beloved. I know they will be changed forever, with no going back.

This is an experiment to see if embedding works on Blogger. Yay! it does. The video is of my son, Ali, covering the world spins madly on. I think he has a great voice... but I suppose I might be biassed.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Stumbled over one thing which led me to another which led me to another and I landed on this page. It's wonderful, and well worth the time to watch the videos. The picture came from another blog called Tiny House Design, which has lots of interesting stuff in it, including an article about Phoenix Commotion, which built the house above.

Dan Phillips takes materials which no one wants and turns them into fantastic houses for single parents and artists.

I've long had a dream of running my own scrap store... we have to trek over to Watford to get to our local scrap store, and I think it could be a fantastic thing. Many scrap stores only take fabric and small items for art recycling - my idea would be to have a proper scrap store which is self-sustaining, and recycled everything from furniture and building materials to jewellery and beads... all donated items, all given away for free.

I'd like a big site, and to be able to run home ed classes, demonstrations, a cafe and training post as wel as the scrap store. The troube is I have learned from the virtual world that to be succesful you need to specialise. My trouble is I am a jack of all trades by nature. I want to do everything at once.

I also love housing which has an organic aspect - the rolling curving roof of the fairytale house above appeals to me, and I would love to design something similar... I think I might try it out in Second Life.

I note that Dan Phillips is using bottles and recycled glass in the walls of his houses, which is something which my hero Hundertwasser did some decades ago. You can find a lot of images of his existing work on the Flickr group 100wasser.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Following another story in the revelations about Jaycee Lee Dugard, kidnapped 18 years ago, the BBC links to a nasty, cowardly article on double X by someone called Torie Bosch. It seems to insinuate that Jaycee Lee Dugard will be criticised for not having escaped from the clutches of her kidnapper.

Despite putting a reference to Stockholm syndrome in her title, this autor doesn't seem to understand the implications of a captive's relationship with her captor, or why it might have ben necessary for Jaycee to sacrifice her autonomy in order to keep living. She doesn't, in short, seem to understand the reference in her title.

Whether the wider public or anyone else will see fit to criticise her, it should be remember that she was 11 years old when kidnapped, and that it seems likely that she was repeatedly raped by someone who shows every sign of insanity.

I think that it would be better to simply celebrate her release, and the release of her two children, and to hope that she will be able to put this experience behind her and her children and enjoy the rest of her life.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This terrible picture is a visual aid showing the bruises and injuries on a child who died after terrible abuse by her mother and stepfather, as reported in the Daily Mail today.

I have three children I love very much. I cannot imagine how damaged you have to be in your relationship to the world to feel that you have to take out your frustration and hate on a defenceless child in this way. I don't like to think about it, or about the life this child must have had in the weeks before her death with every limb in her body broken.

As the story reports, her aunt mentioned her concerns about the child at the looked after child service, but they didn't see her as their responsibility and advised her to take action herself.

This story comes just a couple of weeks after another story where a mother spent months on the run from Social Services after they took her son into care because they believed that the mother and the child's alcoholic stepfather might have shouted at each other in front of the child, who was otherwise well looked after. They did, in fact, take him into temporarily into care for this reason, but the mother managed to get the child back, and went on the run - not because she was damaging her child, but because she couldn't bear to be separated from him again.

These two stories are at either extreme of the social services system, but they indicate that something is going very wrong with the system. When the system should be intervening it does not; when it should not be intervening it does.

And what life lies ahead of a child who has been taken into care, assuming that a right decision has been taken and a child is in need of care from society, away from their family? A life of trailing from placement to placement, cared for by people who fear to hug them in case they claim sexual abuse. A child who is taken into care has dire prospects and a life which is more likely to lead them to prison, mental health problems, drugs, alcohol and a failure to achieve their academic potential.

Instead of wringing our hands and investigating case after case where the children have been failed in one desperate case after another, we need to look around the world for systems which work and protect not only children at risk of serious harm, but families at risk from social workers. And make a better system, because this one we have seems broken beyond repair.

Friday, June 19, 2009

My father is due to go into hospital this morning - in fact if my sister and aunt have done their jobs properly, he should be there already.

It was my aunt's birthday yesterday and so we went out for lunch together to celebrate, and for father's day. We went to the Royal Oak in Bovingdon Green, which was lovely. We had a wonderful meal.

My sister told us about her friend, who went to Portugal last year. She has a daughter about the same age as my Thomas, and they happened to be in Portugal when she celebrated her sixteenth birthday. They decided to go out for a meal to celebrate and chose a nice restaurant near to their holiday home.

While ordering their meal, they explained that the meal was to celebrate their daughter's birthday, and the waiter declaimed loudly, out of the blue. "Oh sir, it's so nice that your daughter is a virgin!"

The daughter in question flushed scarlet, and the whole family embarrassedly buried themselves in their menus and pretended not to have heard what the waiter said.

He took their orders, and made his way through the crowded restaurant to the kitchen, only to catapult out two minutes later and shout across the restaurant. "Oh sir, no, your daughter is NOT a virgin!"

Then reaching the table a few seconds later, in a MUCH lower voice. "Virgo, your daughter is a ...virgo."

They weren't sure whether it was more embarrassing to have their daughter declared a virgin or not a virgin, and were tempted to stand up and explain. But being English, they didn't.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cross posting to all my blogs. I am trying to organise an alternative report to the Badman review. I am co-ordinating that effort through the new ning account for UK free unschoolers.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Report on Home Education

I can't comment yet, still feel too angry, but there are things filtering through in response to the Badman report.

I will post later... still can't formulate my thoughts into a coherent reply.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Working on an art deco build, I search for free Deco fonts and find this web page, which includes a biography for the creator. Think... why can't I gather everything together on one page?

What would I put... and who would be interested? I was born in Watford, Hertfordshire 50 years ago (can't see why anyone lies about their age... it is what it is, and fudging it doesn't make it a year more or less).

I don't feel 50. I spend a lot of my time in Second Life in an avatar that looks around 25, and people just treat me the way I feel there... it comes as a surprise when my children object to me saying "sucks" or "cool" or someone treats me like an ollllld laydeeeeeeee.

Where was I? Hmm... how do you extract the relevant detail from your life? I have five siblings, most of whom hate me because I spent a large number of weekends and holidays as a child as the favourite grandchild of my grandparents. Well, they may hate me for other reasons too, not sure. I get on much better with my brothers than I do my sisters. I married in 1985, have three children. I play the piano, research family history, build in Second Life, compose music, write, home educate my children, have difficulty in specialising in anything in particular. I am really awfu at housework. Things have to be perfect or I don't care, and my not caring is evident in piles of books, drifts of dog hair and general mayhem.

Went to Quakers in 1995, joined Quakers in 1996. Go erratically to meeting but feel very committed to Quakers....

Harvey Gillman once wrote about how, at dinner parties, mentioning that you are a Quaker is a conversation killer, because people want to know what a Quaker is, how you become one, what it is all about - and it isn't easy to explain. I always think I am FAR worse off, because I have Quakers, home education and Second Life to explain, any of which can have someone cross questioning you aggressively until the small hours.

I worked for Lloyd's Register of shipping for ten years before I had children. I have done a variety of voluntary and part-time jobs, mostly involving writing or editing. I love Second Life, and have a lot of friends there, incuding an SL partner.

I enjoy thinking, I love the sea, I like decorative crafts, pottering about in the garden erratically, but not actually gardening. I like helping people in R and SL. Maybe I crave approval, no idea, but I enjoy solving problems. Hate people leaving soluable problems unsolved.

I want to leave things better than I found them... I try to leave things better than I found them. I love conversation, sharing things I like with people. Argh mt stop, can witter on for ages... will think on this some more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: / Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

In these words from Matthew 7:1 are encapsulated the message of nearly everything that I believe...what you do to others you are doing to yourself... when you judge people you will be judged in that same way.

It's hard to breakout of the idea that we are separate and that we can act towards others and not be affected by it. Learning to acknowledge the oneness of all is tough, especially in the modern world in which people may appear to self-serving and grasping - and different from us. It's an illusion. We are all part of the same thing.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

How is it people can't tell the difference between rubbish remakes and good ones?

I've seen quite a lot of criticism of the new Reggie Perrin remake with Martin Clunes. With the notable exception of a horrible laughter track, I think it's pretty good. I like the ways they have updated the series, and particularly the scenes in the train... I used to think Reggie was overreacting to his railway woes in the original series, but the concerns and worries of the new Reggie rang much truer to me.

I loved the old series and Leonard Rossiter, but unless it all goes wrong, I think I am going to like this one even more.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Worst best sex toys list in the world

I was seduced onto the Independent's website by their much better description of Heston Blumenthal's Victorian Feast, which aired on Channel Four last night, and which I missed. As I find that 4OD drains the life out of my laptop, I avoid watching stuff on it, and so will have to wait until the thing is repeated, complete with vibrators served with absinthe jelly.

Maybe because my mind had been taken down a certain line of thought, I clicked on a link on the same website to see the "Ten Best Sex Toys". There is no information about how the ten best is established, and so I must assume it is the ten items associated with sex which the person made to write the post (the celibate tea boy, one must assume) could dredge up out of the freebie box.

Ladies and gentleman, let me share with you:
Number one: an untitled contribution which appears to consist of satin ribbon for tying the wrists of your beloved. Great if you both like bondage, not so great if you don't. 5/10

Number two: a fancy honeymoon spanker prettied up with hearts. For those who want to try spanking, but only want to try it out as a joke. This is dangerous territory here. This is obviously BDSM for beginners who aren't sure that they'll like it. It's going to be tricky if both partners decide they want to be the Domme. Or maybe if one really, really, likes it and the other does not. Still, in principle it IS a sex toy, if a namby pamby ersatz imitation one. 3/10

Number three: the seven pearls Massage Ring - a whopping £433 knuckleduster which apparently doubles up as an intimate massager. No real instructions were appended and so one is left to imagine what one actually does with it. It may be unfair of me to judge without having tried the thing for myself, but it looks uncomfortable and it doesn't appear to have any endorsements to back up its claim to be one of the ten best sex toys. Ten most expensive...yeah probably. 4/10 for weirdness.

Number four: an afterglow massage candle. It was at this point that I realised we were in "desperately filling editorial pages" territory and not any serious attempt to sort out the actual ten best sex toys. A candle, and not even a usefully phallic one either. This one "releases an aromatic massage oil with hydrates and softens the skin on impact". Really. 1/10.

Number five: the hot and cold ceramic dildo. This is not a joke. With dozens of vibrating, wiggling, buzzing, lifelike, day-glo, bunny-eared vibrators to choose from, they chose a ceramic one. I got a chill looking at it. Ceramicists may make things that you can display to the general public on a stand with a chintzy bravado, but they do not make good sex toys. Believe me, I know without trying it that this in no way competes with the Omax vibrator "could get an orgasm out of a stone". This is as cold as a stone.... 1/10.

Number six: Colore Moi body paint. Edible body paint. What can I say? So much less enjoyable than chocolate sauce/honey/squirty cream. And sooo 90s. 3/10.

Number seven: Lust by Marc Lagrange. Wha? A book of posed pictures... by the cover, not even women who look like they breathe either. Oh yeah. That's sexy. NOT. 1/10. And how is that a toy? I mean... even partly.

Number eight: Bow diamante and silk lace pasties. Did they choose someone who was too afraid to visit the sex toy websites? The work experience minor who couldn't get in? They HAVE to be joking. This is dress up, not a sex toy. Not even close. 1/10

Number nine: Oh please. Wildly expensive and uncomfortable G strings. Unless you have a figure like a stick insect, forget it - you'll never see those pearls again. More dress-up. not toys. And tacky, horrible, unflattering unless you are skinny. 2/10

Number ten: The liberator. Described as a tarted up stack of cushions, there is no explanation why someone might want to pay £109.99 for these rather than use...cushions. Less a sex toy and more of a sex facilitator. 2/10.

Really the Independent needs a good spanking with a whopping great leather whip for misrepresenting this as a ten best sex toys list, rather than ten random things we can link to sex. I can do better.
Worth doing badly
Years ago, a Friend at my meeting ministered on the subject of a job worth doing. Unlike my grandmother who repeated "if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well" just about a thousand times in the course of my childhood, the ending was different. Trevor said: "if a job's worth doing it is worth doing badly".

Thinking about it was very liberating for me. I am by no means a perfectionist of the sort that can't bear to do a job sloppily, but I would often avoid doing a job at all if I knew I wasn't able to make a good job of it. Failing by not doing it at all seemed better than failing by doing the job badly.

His ministry allowed me to look at what he had said and know the truth in it: jobs that are worth doing, that need doing, are better done badly than not at all. It's true on all sorts of levels.

I was reminded of Trevor's ministry because today I had a bit of a shock. I was building in Second Life while listening to the incomparable Anton Lesser in the Falco mystery the Silvery Pigs. I would listen to Anton Lesser reading nonsense, I adore his voice, and I love his portrayal of Falco particularly. The episode I listened to was the final episode. As usual I loved the sound of Anton Lesser, but I realised that I liked the woman's voice too. In the drama she is a bit of an individual, a strong character who falls in love with Anton Lesser's character, and I thought she was very well cast, and had a lovely voice, but I had never bothered to find out her name.

Seen above, her name was Fritha Goodey, and this being the age of the internet I was able to look her up immediately, found a wikipedia entry and learned to my immense shock that she had stabbed herself to death in 2004. People always say nice things about someone after they have died, particularly when they die in tragic circumstances, but it seems that people were saying nice things about this actress when she was alive. She had a loving and supportive family, friends and colleagues who liked and respected her. It seems she was beautiful, kind, talented.

And yet she killed herself. Something about her life was so unbearable that killing herself seemed preferable. People said in the news reports about her death that she had been anorexic, and was such a perfectionist that she put herself through agonies wondering if she would let productions down... and even success and bigger and better parts hadn't made that go away. Often it seems it isn't the student destined to get none of their GCSEs who kill themselves through fear of failure - they don't expect to pass and it comes to no one as a surprise when they don't. It is the ones who are predicted to do very well that often can't cope with the pressure to perform, the pressure to live up to this perfect view that the world has of them.

I fear that I am a one tune guitar, but I think schools and our system of education can take the blame for much of that attitude, where exams are emphasised as though lives will be ruined on the stroke of a pen. It doesn't work like that in the real world... people fail exams, they move on and retake, or do something else entirely.

Everyone is different, everyone responds to pressure to perform differently. That's why I believe a one-size-fits-all education system that doesn't respond to the needs of the indiviual children with it is wrong wrong WRONG. And why I am going to be telling my grandchildren, that a job worth doing is worth doing badly.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Yeurgh. Ali was crashing around the house at 4.30, and so despite the fact that I had only got to bed at 1am, I was wide awake at 4.30. I was thinking about the meeting yesterday, tried to get back to sleep but couldn't, and so I have been awake for over an hour and have no prospect of getting back to sleep. And so to blog....

I was busy, busy, busy before meeting yesterday. Outreach committee were meeting and I was needing to print out the agenda and a copy of the email from Beth Allen, for the meeting and I was out of black ink. I managed to print in a reddish purple colour that was legible, and gathered together the other things I wanted for the meeting... a copy of Quaker Quest that I bought at Friends House, a copy of the framework for action.

I left the house in good time and arrived at meeting by about 10.20am, shook hands with David who was greeting yesterday and sat down in meeting by 10.25 am, where there were already about four people sitting.

I usually find it quite easy to centre down in meeting. It's a hard process to explain to someone else, but it is a combination of relaxing, quietening your inner voice, and falling into the waiting which happens in meeting. Sometimes it is hard, and all the things you ought to be doing, are behind with, should be thinking about start to clamour for attention, and sometimes it is easy and you fall into a calm state of opening to the moment.

I was aware of people coming in settling down and the odd sighing outbreath that a lot of people make when they relax into the meeting. What usually happens is that the meeting gradually settles after the last person comes in. The greeter usually stays in the outer room until about 15 minutes into the meeting and then comes and sits down.

Usually it is quiet unless someone gets up to speak. What I loved about Quakers when I first came to it and love about it still is how many of the people who get up tell a story about what they are thinking or have been doing, not in a preaching way, but in a matter of fact, explanatory way. It is easy to listen in an open way.

However, yesterday there were bangs and thumps... a lot of noises generally, including a thump on the piano. That wouldn't have been such a shock except that the piano is in the meeting room, and no one was near it or touching it. If it had been a harmonic sound of the wind through the strings, that wouldn't have been such a shock either - it was a windy day yesterday. But this was a thump as though someone had pressed down on a bunch of keys with their hand.

I'm not clear when exactly the first thump on the piano was. The greeter came in, and there were noises in the rest of the meeting house as though there was a child out there - I thought there *was* a child out there. There were creakings like footsteps, doors creaking, and sound of the toys in the small meeting house being touched... a small piano played, a whistling noise, sounds like things being picked up and put down. I started to feel quite cross - maybe there was someone doing something like cleaning or reorganising, but surely that could wait until after meeting? Then when I heard the toy piano go, I thought it must be a child out there.

I tried to ignore it, but eventually David went out of the room, I assumed to remonstrate with the person concerned. He came back and things were quiet for a while, and then the noise started up again - I thought I heard someone in the corridor, more thumps and bangs, and when I heard the toys again, I decided that whoever it was wanted attention, and went out myself to see if they needed to talk, because they sure were drawing atention to themselves!

I went to the small meeting house, but there was no one there. Looking into the kitchen, no one. The committee room, loos, corridors, garden, no one. The side door had been pulled to, and the inner door blocked so that it couldn't move. I later learned that this was what David had done when he came out. I went back into meeting, and it was quiet for about five minutes and then the piano played again.

After meeting I discovered that David had found no one in the meeting house, and had pulled the doors to and blocked the inner one, in case it was the wind causing the sounds. Of course, it must have been the wind causing the sound effects, although I thought it was very strange that the piano should sound a chord like that - a discordant chord, but definitely the hammers striking the strings. My daughter suggested maybe a lorry passing by might have caused a vibration, but I've lived with pianos for most of my life, and I have never known one to do what that one did.

It isn't the first time either. People often talk of the piano sounding during the meeting. Oddly, we had our outreach committee after meeting, and there weren't any of the bumps and bangs. The piano was silent. Which is just as it should be.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Argh. The TES has an article about the review on home education. It repeats the allegations made that home education may be a cover for abuse, and invokes the Spry case as evidence of that.

There's a weird disconnect in the way that the system is responding to the scandals within the social services field. The Climbie enquiry and others following have behaved as though the children who were abused were unknown to the authorities and it is the lack of information on the children which was at fault and not the system.

Mrs Spry, as a foster mother, would have been subject to much more invasive checks than any home educator, and yet those checks did not reveal the abuse. It seems illogical to assume that less rigorous checks would reveal abuse in other cases. All the scandals recently, Climbie, Baby P, the man who fathered children with his own daughters... all were known to the authorities, all should have prompted intervention. It is the lack of action when a child at serious risk of harm is identified that should be concerning us as a society.

Of course there is also the fact of the dreadful effect of being taken into care, as the prospects for children who are in the care of the local authority are pretty appalling.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In life, so much of what we do is a question of balance. If you eat too much and exercise too little you are likely to get fat and fat is baaaad in the current climate, very bad. But if you eat too little or exercise too much you are likely to get thin, very thin and that, too is bad. The ideal is a balance where you exercise enough, and eat the right amount for your level of exercise to maintain a healthy weight, although what that is seems to vary pretty widely from person to person. The most up to date research on elderly people seems to indicate that's a lot heavier, even into the overweight/obese category, than we thought it was.

If you spend too much time in bed you'll find it hard to hold down a job; too little the same, as you'll be falling asleep on the job. Too much time on your appearance is vanity, too little is slovenliness. Too much time cleaning is obsessive compulsive disorder; too little, a health hazard.

Unfortunately our current government seems to have shipped in a few expert advisors who don't see both ends of the spectrum. They seem to have tunnel vision about the causes of social decline and disorder, and be unable to see that there is a continuum in most areas, which needs interpretation, isn't absolute. For example, they see children out of school as a "thing", and a bad thing at that. Children out of school are children missing from education, children missing from education may slip into criminal behaviour, and are a baaaaad thing. It should be stopped.

The fact that many children out of school are electively home educated, and that this group of children is at the other end of the spectrum from children truanting or missing from school, just doesn't seem to compute. They have a marker for abherrant behaviours and that marker is not attending school and so they lump us in with all the others.

I think the recent child poverty markers are along the same lines: we know that families in which there is a low income are more likely to abuse their children, so let's round up the low income families. They're ignoring the fact that some people make a choice, a literal choice to downsize their income in order to exchange it for quality of life. To give up the commute to the city and spend the time digging the potato patch instead. Not that I think people who have a low income in general should be stigmatized as people neglectful of their children. I would fall into the alert category of low income families, and I strongly resent the idea that I am more likely to abuse or neglect my children.

If you look through the biographies of the rich and famous and their offspring, it seems that very often having more money than sense is a road to disaster, drugs, loss of purpose and a life of aimless addiction. Many of those who grew up in poverty would say that they were poor, but happy. Had little, but loved much. It's a continuum, where you cannot draw conclusions by the simple fact of a family's income.

It seems to me that the people in charge of children's services are looking for easy answers... actually, they'd be much happier if they could tattoo the potential criminals, the families who were about to fall by the wayside... they have become obsessed by identifying them, finding them, being seen to be doing something about them.

The trouble is, you can't categorize people like that. And even if you do identify a risk factor, and separate all the people who demonstrate that they fall into that category, it still isn't going to help the powers that be take a decision in the case. In the end, they have to have good judgement about whether an individual family is in crisis and needs intervention, or is doing ok.

The state makes a very bad parent. You only have to look at the group of children for whom they are the parent - those in the care of the local authority - to see what a very bad job they do of it. The children in care are less likely to achieve academically, more likely to descend into criminal behaviour. The care we offer the children who are removed from families by the state is very poor indeed. Radio 4 reported a couple of years ago that the state has lost track of many children by the time they reach 16 - children for whom they are responsible.

I feel we need to regain a balanced view of this, and see that, actually, we need social workers and social services departments who are doing their jobs properly. We can have as many identifying factors, trends and alarm bells as we (or the government) like, but in the end, what is going to matter to a child at real risk, is whether the adults responsible for ensuring their safety can actually do the job.

I know my opinion is controversial, but the other thing I would do is to recognise that the risk of a child being sexually abused by a woman is infinitesimally small, and put women in charge of good loving children's homes where they aren't afraid to hug and kiss the children. The current situation, where people are afraid to be alone with a child, and the child gets no loving touch at all from the adults in their lives is just as damaging, I do believe, as the sexual abuse such safeguards are designed to protect children from. And though it is uncomfortable for good, loving, non-abusive men to hear, it is true that most of the sexual abuse of children is committed by men. To a quite considerable degree. Please do research this yourself if you doubt me.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I don't usually read a real paper copy of the Daily Telegraph, but the children were seduced by a promise of free chocolates, and so we bought one.

On the letters page was a suggestion by a reader that the possibility of water shortages in warmer summers, combined with the possibility of colder and snowier winters and a shortage of road grit salt, suggested to him that the installation of desalination plants might be a good thing.

It would be good if we had some joined up thinking about the future, really. Floating hydroponics farms may need dragging to warmer climes if the gulf stream diverts away from the UK and we descend into a new ice age. Tethered water-borne housing to replace flooded towns.
Be alarmed. Be *very* alarmed. Be especially alarmed if you have downsized, decided that seeing the children is more important than earning lots of money, and have therefore an income which is less than £29K a year.

The government thinks you are neglecting your children. I am indebted to fellow home educators for the link, which was on this blog post: Prudence is a criminal and will be suitably punished.

My poor MP, the sainted John Randall, has been in receipt of more diatribes and rants from me in the past month than... well I've never been a slacker in the writing-to-your-MP-to-tell-him-what-I-think department. But this is getting ridiculous. I am a law-abiding, caring, upstanding member of society, and I am beginning to feel like an outcast.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Still can't manage to get headlines on the posts on this blog. I have no clue why.

Tom sent me a link to colour changing tiles. These are so wonderful, I want them! Not sure what for, just because they exist and change colour.

Eelco started this morning complaining about the level of sensationalism in the UK press... just as I was thinking that it wasn't too bad because it compares well with Australian levels of journalism. There's a really dire article on global warming which I stumbled upon, which is SO bad, I couldn't believe it was a professional site I was visiting.

I'd got to that site following a link for an online test, which claims to tell people whether they are right or left brain dominant. Despite the blurb on the test saying that most people see it going anti-clockwise, a totally unscientific poll of people I know led me to believe that was untrue: most can see it going clockwise, alternating between clockwise and anti-clockwise or can change it at will.

That led me to wonder what sort of science the claim that it indicated your left or right brain dominance, but I could see no support or references, and following the link to the news site on the Australia website to see if they had more. They don't. I saw the global warming will save lives headline while I was drifting about the site.

Friday, February 06, 2009

It's been an odd week in the UK. The snow came on Monday, and we awoke to a thick covering of snow, the thickest for 18 years. Of course, all the public services fell over: while the press was full of annoying comments from the mayors of Scandinavian towns expressing surprise that the whole country grinds to a halt for a sprinkling of snow, it was obvious that our councils can't horde snow ploughs and road salt on the off chance that it will snow like this.

For every idiot expressing suprise that global warming should lead to a few day's snow, hinting that we are all wrong, wrong, WRONG... there was someone smug explaining the role of the gulf stream and the possible future of the UK without it.

And Boris the London Mayor fulfilled every news editors expectations, by inserting a bit of controversy into a news day which was snow, snow, closed schools and snow, by waiving the congestion charge in central London and admonishing everyone that it wasn't an excuse for a mass skive. I can imagine fists shaken at the tv screen all over London, as the buses were cancelled entirely and most of the underground was down. You want us in work Boris, make sure your transport for London system is working....

Even dedicated people had to be more or less heroic to make the trek to work, One of the radiography staff at Guy's hospital set off as usual at 5.30am, and took eight hours instead of the usual one and a half, to reach work. Many people walked miles. Even so, if you lived outside London and worked in the centre, you had to either be some kind of desperate, or stupid, to make the journey. All the advice was not to go out unless it was essential.

By Tuesday, the snow had melted slightly and refrozen. Most of the schools were still closed, and the press was full of grumpy comments from parents not wanting to have a day off to look after children: it sends the wrong message they said: "If it gets difficult you should give up and take a day off work." Mostly, people enjoyed the day off, and took the chance they hadn't had for years, to toboggan down any convenient hill or slope on whatever came to hand. Trays, suitcases, inflatable mattresses, or in the case of a group of particularly adventurous girls, the roof of a car.

Unfortunately, a few people, including that group of girls, underestimated how fast an object will travel on snow covered in ice, and there were accidents. The roof of the car crashed through a barbed wire fence, one girl was killed and the other two injured. It seemed, as it always seems when a young person dies, that she was a shining example, with handfuls of A* qualifications and a bright future snuffed out. It made me wonder whether, in retrospect, her parents were glad she had spent those 16 years at her books, studying hard, or whether she ought to have spent more of them having fun in the snow.

By Wednesday most of the snow on pavements was gone, and the transport system seemed to be back to normal, although the Metropolitan line into London fell over while I was travelling down it. It seemed the crisis was over....

On Wednesday night across a swathe of the country, another 20 centimetres fell. My aunt in Turkdean, a small village in Gloucestershire, found that the 20 centimetres which had fallen on Monday, lay slightly squished, melted, refrozen, under the next 20 centimetres. No one had been able to leave the village by car for four days by Thursday morning. One adventurous soul had trudged each day to Northleach, to get the papers.

Our snow was melting, and turning a cautionary black colour on the edges of roads. In other parts of the country, we watched as news reporters were covered in a light sprinkling of snow during their reports from the snowiest places in Britain. The mayors of Scandinavian countries were still being wheeled out to tell us we were pathetic for not being able to cope with the odd 20 inches of snow. The salt stocks for gritting began to run out.

Friday morning I awoke to sleety snow, and a new covering in our garden. There was the longest and loudest roll of thunder I had ever heard, and our area seemed to mark the division between those parts of the country still thickly covered with snow, and those who were being lavishly rained upon. Our weather here veered between snow, sleet, rain and back to snow again.

The news programmes were now firmly reporting the disconnect between the amount of rock salt being gritted onto the roads, and the amount it was possible to mine... 25,000 tons a day being used on the roads, 30,000 tons a week being mined. The councils who had been criticised for lack of readiness earlier in the week were now busy demonstrating how impossible it was to salt roads adequately when snow was falling in the quantity it was. One reporter caused merriment in our house by being gradually covered in snow in the course of a demonstration of the inadequacy of grit to cope with the weather: his hair, shoulders, eyebrows and eyelashes collected a delicate lace-like ledge of snow.

Councils began to ration gritting to the major roads, although the rationale for this is hard to fathom: people have to start their journeys from the place where their car is parked, if that's an ice rink side road, it will be just as dangerous to drive from there to the main road....

Now on Saturday morning it seems colder than ever. Our snow is mostly melted in this area, but it seems that in the south particularly to the west, the rest of the country is still covered. The weekend weather is a prospect of clear skies but cold temperatures followed by more snow on Monday. What happens if rock salt stocks continue to deplete and the freezing conditions continue, is anyone's guess. I'm just thankful that we live on the edge of London and have very good transport links here. And that I have an (artificial) fur coat.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

When was a sixteen year old, I was size 16, and there seemed to be virtually nothing to fit me in the stores then. Everything and everybody else seemed to be size 10-14. I slimmed down to a size 12 and then spent my twenties yoyoing between a fat, slim and medium wardrobe.

Evans at this time was an old lady shop, with nasty manmade fibre clothing in old fashioned styles.

Then it picked up for a while, and I found some clothes I liked, particularly when they stocked the odd 1647 label item. That seems a very good fit... 1647, the label belonging to Dawn French, has great designs and a bloody disastrous customer service. When my sister ordered me some clothes for an important presentation, they didn't arrive in time, and although I refused to take delivery she was charged twice for the items. There was a whole rigmarole where she kept phoning to complain that they had charged her, they kept checking and saw that they had refunded her once... and didn't check that they needed to refund twice having charged her twice. It wasn't pretty and I said I'd never darken their doorstep again. I never have, although I have bought the odd thing on ebay.

Evans has very good customer service, and a well-run shop and mail order network but pretty dire clothing for fat people. They seem to have specialised in ignoring that their customers are fat and therefore have certain things in favour of fashion items. The difficulty with this is that their clothes are no longer fit for purpose for most of their customers.

The combination of 1647 designs and Evans business sense was great, although they didn't ever stock many of the 1647 pieces. Now, they seem to be on a downward slide where everything seems either aimed at the young or the elderly with hardly anything for people like me who fall in between, and virtually nothing for anyone who likes their clothes to be as flattering as possible.

If you are a fat woman, you will usually tend to keep your arms covered up, and also your bottom and fat stomach. Thus if you wear a top it will tend to be one which covers those difficult areas. You will want skirts to be that much longer, and jackets and cardigans too. 1647 recognises that. Evans does not. Their latest collection is hideous and seems not to realise that if you have a fat stomach, the last thing you want to do is to put something clingy on it. Can you imagine how awful this will look?

I keep writing and complaining, but apart from offering me the chance to be advised by one of their helpful store assistants, they have not taken any of my comments on board.

Incidentally, if ayone has money to invest in producing clothing for fat women, woolly tights would be a winner. I have seen dozens of posts on lots of fat forums from people desperate to get their hands on some, and yet none of the fat person shops seems to stock them... and it's been that way for a couple of years.

Monday, February 02, 2009

It's still snowy, and has been very cold overnight. I'm waiting to see what the Metropolitan line is looking like once the rush hour gets going: I don't have to be in work until 11 am, so I think I will avoid making decisions until it is clear how things are.

Spent some time muttering at the BBC weather page. Currently their weather forecast for five days ahead shows the maximum for today at three degrees celsius, and the minimum as minus one. Switch the view to 24 hours only and the maximum shown is still three degrees... but the minimum at nine am this morning, is minus four.

I don't know why it infuriates me SO much when the forecast doesn't make sense, but it does. I have complained about four or five times, and always get some sort of excuse about the period of time being different (the five day forecast being midnight to midnight while the 24 forecast is just now and for the next 24 hours) but it doesn't wash with me. Forecasts for the public ought to make sense without long explanations about why the different ways of presenting the data don't match up.

I will have a dilemma over what to wear to work. I have an artificial fur coat which was a christmas present a few years ago and is terribly warm, but terribly heavy too. If I wear it, and it snows, it gets even heavier - like carrying a dead bear around. On the other hand, it would mean that I stay warm, no matter how cold it gets.

The only problem I fear is being attacked for wearing fur, even if artificial.

The report on child happiness that I wrote about yesterday has been published, and although I didn't know this, talks about the fact that selfishness on the part of adults is leading to unhappiness in children.

Here, about 10-15 centimetres of snow has fallen overnight and it is still snowing heavily. My children were in and out of the back door from about 4.30, playing in the snow. They were under strict instructions not to make a noise, and didn't, but they did trail in wet snow through the kitchen and hallway and let the arctic winds in.

I didn't realise, but from about 5.30 onwards it was snowing heavily. As dawn broke on a garden about 10cm deep in snow, I realised how heavily the snow was falling. And is still falling, a couple of hours later.

My children had begun to disbelieve the existence of real snow. We've had the odd snow shower, but often the forecast for snow has been followed in our area on the outskirts of London with a short flurry and then nothing but cold temperatures, while news pictures have shown people in other parts of the country frolicking in snow.

But today is different. The snow is nearly knee deep for her, and still falling heavily. Heathrow has closed, London buses are off the road, and half the tube has closed down.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Weirdly, while I was posting my previous blog post, Eelco was watching a lecture by Elizabeth Warren. They dovetail in rather a neat way. Some of what she says is not applicable to the UK - thankfully we don't have to worry about spiralling costs for healthcare at present - but a lot of it is very surprising and very interesting.

I did that thing where you watch another and another and another... and found this video about the response to global climate change. The internet is so wonderful. I hope we save the world beore the internet melts.

My blood pressure is at a unhealthily high level, due to an article on the BBC website, which talks about a report in advance of its publication tomorrow. First of all, what is that about? If the report is due for release tomorrow, why release the details in advance, and have everyone speculate about its contents? Why not... oh I don't know... wait until the day for publication, and publish it? I am becoming a grumpy old woman....

The report will apparently say that despite better health, better education and more stuff, children's lives are harder than they have been in the past. What raised my blood pressure sharply was this comment from a mother (my italics):

'Lincolnshire mother Sarah Parish said she refused to believe her children suffered as a result of her job. "I wanted to find me again and have something for me as well as the children. I enjoy my job, I knew they would be no worse off at nursery as they are at home with me. I do miss them incredibly but I make sure I spend time with them and do the things they enjoy doing as well," she said. '

So... I conclude that this woman puts her happiness over that of her children; won't be convinced by any actual evidence that things aren't the way she'd like them to be; and is too selfish to admit that being at home with their mother is better or different from being at nursery.

I think we are on very dangerous territory as a society: research shows that children are MUCH better off with a single loving adult than at nursery, where they will have the divided attention of people who are paid to keep them safe, but not to engage and love them. The younger the child, the more profound the difference between institutional care in a nursery and home will be.

If children are neglected and abused at home, they would of course be better off in an environment where they are at least kept safe. How many children IS that? Most of the parents I know are fallible, and have their own idiosyncrasies, but love their children and want to do whatever is best for them. The trouble is that government propaganda about getting parents back into work and providing affordable childcare, often gives the impression that putting children into nursery is a better option for the children than being cared for by the loving adults in their lives. Research shows the opposite.

When the suffragettes were fighting for the vote and rights for women, what they hoped for was a world in which the work that women traditionally were doing - looking after children and caring for the house - was recognised as of equal value as the work traditionally done by men. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, the feminist movement had subverted that aim into the call for complete equality, the right for a woman to be like a man, to do the same jobs as a man and to be treated like a man.

At that time, neuroscience seemed to think that men's and women's brains were alike, and that the differences between them were either the result of environmental influences, or an anomaly. We know better now, know that there are differences in men's and women's brains before they leave the womb, and these lead to differences in their general attitudes, their abilities and shortcomings, and their approaches to the world.

Among my friends, among the wonderful women I met when I had my first child, when I went to a National Childbirth Trust neighbourhood group, I was unusual. I had had a career and a good job in the city, and I gave it up when I had my son, in order to be with him. It wasn't something I had to agonise over: the day before he was born, it was 50/50 whether I would stay at home or go back to work; the day after he was born, I didn't have a choice. I couldn't have left him with anyone.

To say that this deep emotional attachment took me by surprise, is an understatement. I thought I knew about having a baby and looking after it, because I had two siblings who were 13 and 15 years younger than me respectively, and I had helped a great deal with looking after them when I was a teenager. I knew about caring for children, playing games, looking after ther physical needs. What I wasn't aware of until I had my own children was the bonding that made me want to protect my child from all harm, all strife, all danger, all unhappiness. It's a good evolutionary habit, driving one to keep babies safe, and look after their needs over and above your own, and it is being subverted by encouraging women to leave their young babies in nurseries at a very young age.

I feel that my mother had no choice but to stay at home in the 1950s to look after her babies... that was just expected of her. The feminist movement appears to me to have worked hard so that contemporary women now have no choice but to go to work, and leave their babies in the care of nurseries and nannies. I don't see that as progress. Progress would offer women real choices, the freedom to go to work if that is really what she wants, but also to stay at home. Shortly after I stopped work to have my first baby, Mother and Baby magazine surveyed their readers to discover their real atittudes to staying at home, and discovered that 80% of women would prefer to be at home with their babies. I'm not sure, but I guess that less than half of those actually have the freedom to choose that in fact.

What I think is really damaging to our society and to families, is that women having traditionally put the rest of the family - and especially their children - first, and themselves second, are now encouraged to put themselves first and the rest of the family second. Most people seem to think that's OK, and good for the wives and mothers in our society. I think it is just as unbalanced as it was before, but in the other direction. Really, we should be learning to consider the welfare of the family unit and balancing the needs and wishes of all the members of it to agree how the family should work. Saying "I refuse to believe that my children suffer..." doesn't indicate this is what is happening.

Our society has the option to change the way things are at the moment... there is no evil alien in charge forcing us to organise the way that we do. I think that the way the UK has developed their education industry makes no sense at all in the 21st century: we could be giving children more freedom to learn the things that interest them, and instead we are imposing an outdated national curriculum - and heavy testing - on them all. They are being given the impression by the system we squeeze them all through, that they are stupid if they can't read by the time they are six (many famous, successful people have been much older), they are stupid if they can't grasp cursive writing by the time they are seven (many adults would struggle to achieve this), and that knowledge, and understanding, of quadrilateral equations is essential to be a success as an adult (if this were true it would pose a problem for at least 50% of adults).

One of the main points in Frank Smith's amazingly wonderful Book of Learning and Forgetting, is that if you struggle to learn, the main thing you learn is that learning is a struggle. Children are learning machines, and what we should be asking about our system of education is why we think it is necessary to make children unhappy in order for them to learn; and what do we expect to come out of a system that uses a one-dimensional academic measuring stick for people who will go on to diverse futures, being everything from roadsweepers to brain surgeons?

The curent system seems to want everyone to attempt to become a brain surgeon, only lowering their sights if they fail a test at some point. Thus, anyone who doesn't excel at academic work, gradually has to bring their expectations down, lugging along a permanent sense of failure to reach the level required. Is this an effective way to make people into happy and fulfilled adults? I don't think so. Equality of opportunity shouldn't mean trying to squeeze everyone through the same system in the same way - especially in these days of computerised technology, when it would be possible to individualise learning to take account of our children's different strengths and talents.

I see the way that the system treats boys and girls exactly the same as a very damaging thing: the school system hasn't caught up with the fact that we know boys and girls are quite different from the very beginning. Any parent with both girls and boys is aware of this, and that it isn't anything to do with environmental conditioning. I had two boys before my daughter was born, and they had dolls and tea sets as well as lego and construction kits. The dolls were largely ignored (or abused) before my daughter was born. She ignored the boys' toys in favour of crayons and paper at a very early age. My sons loathed being made to sit still; she loved it. They could spend all afternoon with another boy and know nothing, but nothing, about him at the end of it. She would know a child's name, where they lived and how many brothers or sisters they had after five minutes.

It seems ridiculous to me that there is the possibility, with rising unemployment, that there will be families without an earner in them due to lack of jobs, while children are languishing in nurseries so that their mothers can go to work when they would rather not. That boys who would be far better off in their mother's company will be unhappy at nurseries and learning how to disrupt classes to express that unhappiness, while their mothers are unhappy at work.

We have a punitive system of education, that systematically excludes people by raising the bar for progress through the system. It IS possible to change that. We could be opening up education, allowing anyone who wishes to study with their local college or university. How many people do you believe would stick with an advanced course in economics, say, if the intellectual content of the course was way above them? How many people who choose to do, say, electrical engineering, if they had no understanding or interest in the content?

When I took my children out of school, I suddenly realised that my attitudes and opinions upon education were not my own: they were largely formed by my understanding of what was "normal" because I had been through the state education system myself. When I really looked at the system and how it operates, as though I were the alien dropped from outer space so beloved of teachers in providing pupils with a different perspective, I realised that I didn't buy into a lot of the things which the school system adheres to. Putting barriers in the way of people who wanted to learn was just one of them.

Our children have rising incidences of depression, suicide, anxiety. If they were getting happier and better educated with our current system, I could understand the drive for more of the same, but there is every sign that they are not. Children who have been nailed into their seats to read and write at an early age, are having to have exercise regimes, spinning andswinging and catching and throwin a ball, prescribed to counteract dyspraxia. So we are preventing children from doing what comes natually by our insistence on starting academic education much earlier than most of our european counterparts, and then have to prescribe remedial courses in being a child and doing what children do, as a result!

And one in six children still leaves school after 11 years of compulsory education, unable to read and write. It is estimated that one in four is unable to read, write and calculate simple maths problems to a reasonable level. That's leaving aside the permanent sense of failure whicha child must have if theyhave endured 11 years of being unable to do what most of their contemporaries do. This doesn't seem like a successful system to me.

At the heart of our education system is a scientific theory of learning which says that it is necessary to break up information into digestible chunks, feed it out to children and then test teir assimilation of the information, as though the information makes more sense - not less - when you break it into such small pieces that it doesnt seem to relate to anything else. It is a system where helping each other is seen as cheating, instead of just...helping. Can you imagine a situation in an office where someone who is struggling to understand the photocopier was left to handle it on their own, because for anyone in the office to show him how to use it would be "cheating"? This attitude that you should not help, that somehow there is a shame in giving or accepting help, is very damaging, I think.

There is a quote from the report, which says it calls for "a radical shift away from the excessively individualistic ethos which now prevails, to an ethos where the constant question is, 'What would we do if our aim was a world based on love?'"

I'd like to know the answer to that question, too.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

When I read that Richard Hammond was going to be presenting a programme about science, designed for children, I had high hopes that it might be of the experiential nature of Top Gear. I looked forward to watching him explore scientific knowledge with the anarchic and naturalistic style of the Top Gear programme which, despite not being able to drive and not being interested in cars, I find very entertaining.

What Blast Lab is, though, is as far as you can get from Top Gear without turning into a party political broadcast on behalf of the green party. It is contrived, with cameo characters in the form of a granny and other caricatures, with artificial situations, teams, and a noisy audience, and the prime emotion that it engenders is irritation, not curiosity. The experiments with dropping a tonne on water on a car are recognizable from Richard Hammond's exploits on Top Gear or Brainiac, but there's none of the naturalism or honesty that shines through from that show.

Well OK, I'm a 50 year old woman and not, I agree, the target audience for the show.. but I have never met a child yet who liked the artificiality of these type of FUNFUNFUN shows. Many of them like Top Gear, for all the same reasons that adults like it. It's funny and intelligent and anarchic and honest. It doesn't talk down to them, it doesn't pretend Richard Hammond's granny works in the studio.

Science IS exciting, it doesn't need dressing up with neon and a rabble of excited children. Discovering and exploring IS FUNFUNFUN, it doesn't need to come in an explosion of colourful graphics and a car with a personality.

I'm wondering when children's television will grow up and realise that they have the chance to show how living in an age of information has changed children's - all our - lives. This programme could have been made 10, 15, hell 30 years ago, barring a few of the computerised effects. It's sooooo last century.

Friday, January 30, 2009

As a fat woman, I often feel angry that people assume that I spend my days eating cakes and biscuits and in short overeating. In terms of "normal" eating I do not overeat, I don't binge on rubbish food, I do eat an amount I think most people would consider normal. I don't hide cakes and sweets and gorge on them on my own.

In terms of my level of physical activity, I do not do enough exercise. My terrible back problem a couple of years ago has resolved, but for many months I couldn't stand for longer than five or so minutes. Some people have ssumed that my back problem relates to the fact that I am overweight, but my chiropractor disagreed: while he said that it would probably help to lose weight, he also bade me look around his waiting room to see that there are people of all sizes with back problems. It isn't just a fat person's complaint.

I know that some of you will have raised your eyes to the ceiling on my mentioning a chiropractor, because it is seen as little more than pseudoscience by a lot of people. I can only say that I have been to mine unable to straighten up, walking in extreme agony, and have after ten minutes of treatment been able to walk without pain. When you have experienced that it is difficult to care what disagreements arise between conventional medicine and chiropractic.

That there are bad chiropractors and bad chiropractic method I do not dispute: my really bad session of back pain... when I literally could not move without screaming, was caused by the fact that I saw another chiropractor at the practice I attend, rather than my usual one. My usual chiropractor uses the toggle-reflex method of chiropractic, which is normally very gentle, and I find effective.

The back problem was probably associated with the sedentary life I had been leading, which then became a cause of the even more sedentary life I was forced to lead, making progress little by little, week by week. Thus while I say that I eat a normal amount, I was obviously overeating for the level of activity I had.

The problem I find with dieting is that dieting tends to work for a while, but it seems to have an adverse effect on how fat you will be on reverting to your normal eating pattern. I started dieting as a teenager when I was a size 16 at 16, and could find hardly any clothes to fit, and felt very fat. I'd say that although I have become several sizes larger, I have never felt fatter than I did as a teenager. My impression was tha I was enormous and needed to diet, and thus I began 15 years of dieting and losing weight, only to put it back on again.

Eventually I realised that yo-yoing between fat and thin was not only bad for me in itself, but each time I lost weight I lost less, and each time I went back to normal eating I was gaining more.

I believe that my natural weight was around 11 stone, and because I thought that was elephantine, although I was relatively tall in my age group, at five feet eight and a half inches, I compared myself with girls who were only five feet two. By dieting, I reduced my weight to nine stone, at whic point I looked very slim, but I couldn't maintain that weight, and I soon gained more... a pattern which was repeated often in the course of the 15 years.

I tried diets with milkshakes, where you only ate once a day, diets with weight watchers, where the shame of getting on the scales in front of others was supposed to work the magic, diets based around particular food groups or particular foods.

I discovered what many other have discovered: that calorie intake does not necessary have a direct relationship with weight gain or weight loss. On an Atkins variant I was able to eat any quantity of meat or fat, while strictly restricting complex carbohydrates like potatoes and rice.

I tried diets which combine particular foods and diets which avoided particular combinations of food. I usually used to accompany a new diet with a few days of half-hearted exercises, doing sit ups and bends, and a few yoga exercises. I have swum, bicycled and walked my weight down...only to watch it creep back up.

Eventually I did try an expensive diet doctor, whose main job seemed to be to tease me with the news that he could eat what he liked and never put on weight, and talk about deep fried battered zucchini, while handing out amphetamines, which I never took. Then I took the decision, hard as it was, that the cure being worse than the ailment, it would probably be better for my health, my pocket and my wellbeing to simply try to eat healthily, to walk when I could, and to try to limit my contact with things like smoke and alcohol, than to continue down the path of weight loss and weight gain.

Over the years I have looked at the reasons for my weight, looked at social and emotional reasons, but I honestly do not think that they have a big bearing on why I am overweight. When I look through my family album, I see overweight great grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, overweight brothers and sisters, overweight mother. You could assume that there is a group ignorance about food and nutrition but that isn't so. I believe that there are genetic factors in being overweight, jut as there are in the propensity to be underweight and have to eat to try to put on weight.

For years the news has been bad: indeed the most recent government propaganda decress the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases for people who are overweight.

From time to time there has been a dissenting voice, but these are mostly drowned out by the noise from the others who believe fat is bad, thin is healthy. Now research from the American Journal of the American Geriatric Society (reported here) has concluded that not only are overweight and obese adults at less risk of bad outcomes than the underweight, but that overweight and obese people of 65 may actually have better outcomes in some directions... it isn't a simple formula.

I'm not beginning to say that it is necessarily desirable for anyone to be overweight or obese... just that the dangers should not be exagerrated, and people should not be frightened with bad science. There is always a bias among scientists towards logical stuff that is obvious...sometimes though the logical and obvious can be quite wrong.

That there is resistance to the idea that this might be right, is demonstrated by this commentary on the results on

"....Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of this study. It would suggest that being overweight at 65 doesn’t really matter much, though I have a hard time believing that. I think part of the problem is that with 70% of the country being overweight, comparing people to “average” or “normal” doesn’t really work anymore. The study also did not look at people who were very overweight or obese (a whole different set of health issues). What we need to think about is what the optimal, best-case situation is. It could be that weight plays a bigger role in ages 80+ (something not examined by this study) or that that assumptions made by the statisticians were not valid."

You can almost hear this person grappling mentally with the assault on all their assumptions that the research represents. Even worse, in an article reported on the Big Fat Blog, a doctor concedes that the research that they had done showed that your chances of surviving a heart attack were better if you were overweight, but suggests that this is because fat people can make big changes to their lifestyle post-heart attack, while thin people who had heart attacks didn't have the opportunity to do anything about that, and so they are more likely to die. It sorta makes my head spin. Wha-wha -what now?

In our culture at present, fat is seen as a health risk, unacceptable and something to be eradicated. I think that the success of government propaganda means that even if this is wrong, or wrong at least for elderly people, it will take many years for that information to be accepted by the mainstream, or most people.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A typical morning for me at the moment. I wake up at 5.30am with a letter to the Times in my head, spend an hour or so trying to form my arguments against compulsory inspection, and then find it degenerating into so many pieces of information and so many directions at once, that it becomes incoherent.

Find that someone has answered a family history query on one of the boards, and bemoan once again that don't have the money to order all the certificates I need.

I have this fantasy in which I live in an old rambling house which has enough room for me to have a library come study... a place where I have all my books and a big table for to work on and scatter with the results of my research.

I suddenly realised that I have this superstitious feeling that I shouldn't wish for a room of my own in case I get it because my family throw me out or admit me to the sunset home for eccentric relatives. And suddenly I realised that it would be possible to separate my living area from the family with a room divider of some sort, and hmmm I have to go away and think about this. Maybe I should make it so, Captain, and stop dreaming about it?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The BBC have refused to broadcast an appeal for Gaza, on the basis that it would call into question their journalistic independence.

I am rather puzzled by this stance, which seems to be a new idea for the BBC. They have previously broadcast appeals for humanitarian aid (in Darfur for example), without worrying about whether this would affect their judgement or impartiality in news reporting.

In some ways I believe that taking this stance is less impartial than simply allowing the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to make a judgement about which humanitarian disasters warrant urgent aid. Currently, Israel is not in need of humanitarian aid, and if they were, I hope the BBC would broadcast an appeal for them too. I am not partisan, I would want any country, or group of people in dire need of aid, to receive it.

To be truly impartial the BBC must not make political judgements about humanitarian aid, and should leave those decisions to the charities working in the field.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Caught a bit of start the week on radio 4 while I was rushing around trying to make the house respectable for the district nurses who are coming to dress Ali's wound. The guy from the Grauniad who does the bad science column was there. He's obviously written a book, or brought out a compilation of his columns or something.

I felt like dashing off a really long flaming email to him, but controlled myself. Firstly because I don't think people generally read rants if they're sent to them by strangers, and secondly because there was so much I wanted to say all at once that I don't think it would be very coherent.

He talked about the fact that while there are any number of erudite articles about the arts, science is always dumbed down in the press. You know, or you ought to know by now, dear reader, that I don't like the use of the phrase dumbed down in his context of meaning making content simpler, because it isn't the way that John Taylor Gatto meant it when he coined the phrase. But that's a nitpicking home educator's rant for another time.

One of the things which I have always been aware of is the way that school teachers and parents influence their children's choice of subjects, encouraging them towards science and away from the arts. Ihadn't really realised the extent of the influence until my children and my friends' children reached the age of decision making. Often I have heard parents tell their children that they should concentrate on the science subjects that they are good at and do art or music as a hobby. I can't say I have ever heard of a parent who went the other way and told their children to concentrate on art and do physics as a hobby.

I think it is a shame from all sorts of angles. The only reason arts and sciences are divided is because of the way that they are taught in schools and universities and the way that education is organised. It took several months of home educating my children to realise that the real world simply isn't organised in that way: if you make some biscuits as an exercise one afternoon, there is no-one to tell you that you are doing English (reading the recipe), maths (weighing ingredients), physics (conductivity of heat, reversible and non-reversible processes) and maybe biology, design, and a hundred other subjects too. Life isn't divided in that way.

In the 18th century, people from all walks of life were interested in science and the discoveries that were being made. I investigated the Coffee Houses of London for a project not long ago, and was amazed by what egalitarian and interesting places those were in the 1700s, with scientific experiments, news, discussion going on. People don't seem to have been scared away from thinking that tey couldn't understand science, and it was much more integrated into life... nowadays we have the idea that only people in white coats with complicated degrees are able to understand science because it has become so complex.

I've got a long way off any sort of point here. The chap from the Guardian talked about the MMR hoax, and said that poor journalism and poor understanding of science had lead parents to make ignorant decisions... that's paraphrasing, hope I haven't misrepresented what he actually said, I didn't take notes, as I was washing up.

I saw red, a bit. I am an intelligent woman who takes her responsibility as a parent very seriously indeed. When it came to vaccinations, I read extensively and then made an appointment to see the GP responsible for vaccinations at my local GP surgery. He said, and I quote "If you have been reading up about vaccinations, you probably know more than I do," as his first comment, which was hardly reassuring. He offered me the book that the NHS then sent out to surgeries with the "facts" about vaccination, and told me that his wife, a health visitor, had been against vaccinating their chilren, and so he had sneaked in during the night and vaccinated them without her knowledge or permission. I was more or less speechless by this time.

His main argument in favour of vaccination was that he had seen some terrible cases of whooping cough and no parent would want their children to suffer like that. It wasn't scientific, it was the thing which all scientists seem to deride, an emotional appeal to me based on anecdotal evidence.

I did vaccinate my children and the elder of my sons had the MMR. However, there was then a bit of a furore caused by the fact that a massive number of doses of MMR had to be withdrawn because the mumps element of this particular batch was causing mumps meningitis. Shortly after this, the government sent out a circular suggesting that all children should be given another dose of measles vaccine. Were they going to be given only the measles element of the MMR? NO, they were going to be given measles and rubella - in a booster due to take place shortly before all those doses of MMR without the faulty mumps element, were due to go out of date.

What made me really suspicious, was the fact that the leaflet suggested that rubella was being included with the booster because rubella can be a very serious illness for children too. This isn't true. It can be very serious if you are a pregnant woman who is not immune and come into contact with it, because of the effect on your unborn child, but it isn't a serious illness per se.

I became extremely distrustful of what I was told by the government about vaccines after that, feeling that they would say anything to use up unused stocks of vaccines.

When my elder son had his pre-school boosters a couple of months later, he had a very severe reaction, throwing up repeatedly. I took him to the doctor the following da, and said it was probably unrelated to the vaccines, but.... He said it was probably related to the polio that he had been given, but he didn't report the reaction on the yellow card scheme. When my sister's daughter had a severe reaction to her vaccinations, with high pitched screaming, some years later, the doctor confirmed that he thought that was because of the vaccine, but again didn't report that on the yellow card.

With such a lack of information, and cavalier attitude to the science around vaccinations, I don't find it surprising that parents distrust the information they are given. In America, one researcher has linked the inclusion of thiomersal in vaccinations with autism, but has been ridiculed in a similar way to the doctor who said years ago that BSE could be transmitted from cow to calf, and potentially from cow to human. In their protection of the establishment view, and closed mind to the alternatives, I don't see better science, just a different sort of prejudice.