Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Got into a twitter conversation - well it started that way - with someone about Fifty Shades of Grey and was put in the odd position of defending a film I hadn't seen and a book I don't have strong feelings about.  People declaim that 50 Shades is a bad book, but really no one who has ever read a Mills and Boon novelette could ever claim that it's the worst book.

It is neither good nor bad, but what it did brilliantly was to wrap up female fantasies of dark and handsome stranger, lots of money and shopping and someone who wants you for yourself despite the fact that you aren't their type.  That's pretty appealing and parts of it tap into most women's fantasies at some point.

I have always thought that was what the Spice Girls managed to do - whether you were pretty and feminine or feisty and sporty or blunt and slightly scary - there was a Spice Girl like you.  If they'd included a fat one they'd have been unstoppable.  As it was they pretty much cornered the market for a while.

They keep sending men to review Fifty Shades of Grey and that's never going to work.  They need a woman on the job.

People in the BDSM world are pretty cross about the misrepresentation of BDSM in the film, where the interaction between the two characters is actually the opposite of consensual, as the woman is not interested in the BDSM part of the relationship at all, and doesn't consent to it.  Also the idea that the reason Christian Grey is interested in BDSM seems to be some dark abuse in his past.  That's not the way it is... most BDSM relationships are enthusiastically consensual, particularly where someone who enjoys submission is matched to someone who likes to dominate.

A BDSM relationship is normally openly negotiated, which means that the couple discuss the things they will or won't do for each other, and where the boundaries lie.  It's much more healthy than a vanilla relationship where sex is never discussed and one partner may be extremely unhappy with their sex life but doesn't like to mention it.

The abusive, controlling picture of BDSM is certainly not the norm.  It seems to me that some people enjoy particular things in bed, and some people need particular things to function sexually.  What turns you on can be anything from ice to ball gags, but people (and it is generally men) who need a particular element in their sex life to be able to enjoy it, will normally seek out someone who shares their desire from the other side.

The idea in the book and the film is that he wants her for herself - never mind that she doesn't share his passion for BDSM, he wants her, and her alone, and will make sacrifices to get her.  That's a persuasive fantasy for most women.  She doesn't properly submit to his desire until she cares for him.  And that, rather than the spanking and handcuffs frippery, is what made it so successful.

Elves and the shoe destroyer...

Sometimes I think my life is the opposite of the Elves and the Shoemaker.  I go to bed with the kitchen in reasonable shape and then in the night some devil goes in there and creates a mess to clear up in the morning.  I think I know who though....

Afterlife studies

My children are very skeptical that there is anything but this material world.  When you're dead, you're dead as far as they are concerned.  My experiences in life have led me to believe that the material world is just part of our experience, and that there are things beyond the material.

I am now part of the Quaker Association for Afterlife Studies, which includes a lot of people who have experienced the possibility that life continues beyond the death of the body. It's a relief to have contact with people who are open to the ideas... for whom I don't have to explain and argue for my beliefs before getting to discuss something I've read or heard, but who are prepared to believe that someone may have experienced death and returned to tell the tale.  My children's view is that if someone returns to tell the tale, they weren't dead.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Signs of age

Start the week with a bit of guilt and shame

Listened to Start the Week on Radio4 this morning as I sorted recycling for the tip.  The theme was guilt and shame, and there were a variety of guests.  For those unfamiliar with the programme, it consists of a presenter and a round table of topical people who have usually published books or directed plays, talking about a topical theme, or one drawn together from their books etc - or unusually just a series of discussions on the topics of their works.

Jon Ronson, one of my very favourite writers and broadcasters, was one of the guests today, as he has recently published a book about internet shaming.  Go and explore his website!  There is a lot to enjoy.  To be honest I didn't pay very good attention to the other guests which included someone who thought public shaming has its uses, a man who is directing an Arthur Miller play with a related theme, and an academic talking about Judas.  If you want to hear the programme it is on the iplayer, available free to anyone in the world on the BBC website, and I believe it is available as a podcast too.  Tom Sutcliffe is the presenter, who also presents Front Row from time to time and the Saturday Review, all worth listening to, and they keep me up to date with what's happening/coming out/hot.

They talked about public shaming, and refusing to be shamed, and the feeling of guilt, and whether Judas could be culpable for betrayal of Christ if it was part of God's plan.  What they didn't talk about, and what preoccupied me, was the idea that innocent guilt is impossible to assuage. If you are guilty of some transgression you can do penance, apologize all those other things.  The sort of thing I was thinking about was survivor guilt, rape victim guilt, the sort of experience which makes you feel guilty even though you have done nothing wrong. I suppose the ironic-tweet-that-everyone-took-seriously IS an example of this sort of guilt.

It occurred to me that the Catholic Church has always been very hot on guilt, while giving people an easy way out of their guilt.  Once upon a time you could buy your way out by paying for hapless monks to pray for your salvation, or you could buy indulgences, a sort of get-out-of-gaol-free card for naughtiness.  Then there are the other penances that people put themselves through - self-flagellation, doing pilgrimages, walking on your knees to a shrine etc.  My mind goes off at a tangent wondering if those count if you enjoy them....

Inevitably quite a lot of the talk was of the internet and its shaming tactics, but it seems to me that those are only skin deep.  I'm sure it is an uncomfortable experience to be shamed by the internet, but the ephemeral nature of the medium is that today's scandal is swept up and away through the stream of tweets and on to another thing.  It is different when people take their grievances offline too and threaten to kill or rape, or contact a woman's employers and demand that her head should roll.  That's of a different order altogether.  But for most stupid things said on the internet, they're here today and gone tomorrow.

The other type of guilt and shame... the things we did and regret, the things which were done to us and we feel guilty for, those things are ingrained deeper, but it is possible to let go of them.  If it is true that no experience is necessariy good or bad, it is just what we make of it, there must be a way to reframe the experiences which give us cold sweats in the middle of the night and make us hope for a large black hole to swallow us up.  Anthony Robbins talks of viewing an experience as though on a tv screen and shrinking it down, enlarging it, changing the memory.  Emotional Freedom Technique talks of running through the experience and changing it so that it no longer has the emotional power to control you.

In the end, guilt and shame are all tied in with what you believe about the world, and what you believe about yourself, and thus your way of handling it has to be individual too.  People, as someone once said, believe what they believe whether they like it or not.  It's true, and especially true of our memories of shaming or painful things.  It seems ironic to me that we might have more difficulty dealing with those things we haven't done - far more than those we did, which clearly point to the victim of our action and a means of reparation.

In the case of unwarranted internet shamings, where people have said ironic or sarcastic things and the irony has been lost in the translation, the ability to repair the damage is an ephemeral thing too... for although the twitter stream moves on, it entombs the things we have stupidly said, and they may take on a life of their own in a way that a scribbled note, letter, casual remark in the pub, never would have done. 

It's a good programme, thought-provoking, intelligent and interesting.  Listen!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snow news is good news

I once worked with someone who tried to get puns based on the phrase "no news is good news" into his stories.  He often succeeded, getting "no noose is good noose" into an article about rope making, and "snow news is good news" into an article on icebreakers. In memory of that colleague, Ted Crowley, I am using his headline for this blog post about weather forecasting.

I have followed Weather Action and Piers Corbyn for more or less the entire time I have been online, about sixteen years.  For those who aren't famliar with his work, Piers Corbyn is the wild-haired weather forecaster who runs Weather Action, a site which promises long-range weather forecasts to anyone who will pay their substantial monthly subscription fees. 

When I first came across Weather action, they were providing some short or medium range weather forecasts for free to the public, while they charged farmers and event organizers for long range weather forecasts.

Piers is a physicist who has developed what he calls the solar-lunar technique for predicting long-range weather forecasts.  He has documented the solar weather since he was a child and says that the sun has a greater effect on the weather pattern on earth than conventional forecasters realize.  He has allegedly offered to collaborate with the Meteorological Office on long-range weather forecasting, but declines to reveal his methods or subject them to peer review, and so they have refused.

He came to national attention as the only weather forecaster who predicted the sudden snowfall in December 2010 which brought the country to a halt.  He got considerable publicity as a result of that, because the BBC and other outlets were not predicting the heavy snowfall even a day ahead, and Piers had predicted it about nine months ahead.  He predicted the route and date of hurricane Sandy and was right about that, thus drawing some attention in the US as well.

His detractors say that these are flukes, that he is more wrong than right, and most damningly, that he claims success when he has failed and never apologises for his own mistakes while highlighting any shortcomings in the Met Office forecasts.

His supporters point to the many successes he has had with long-range weather forecasting and the fact that betting on his own predictions made him a profit in the years when he did that for the publicity value.  They say that commercial clients running farms and tourist attractions would not pay for the forecasts if they were wrong all the time.

Some months after the successful prediction of the snowfall, in October 2011, there were dire hints from Piers on twitter and on the weather action blog, of a storm surge to affect the coast of the Netherlands and the east coast of England.  Having a partner who lives in Rotterdam, I decided to buy the forecast to see what the actual prediction was.  I later realized that apocalyptic warnings of various types are stock in trade for Piers and Weather Action, providing click bait for twitter followers convinced that they must buy the forecast to understand what is about to befall them.  His infographics posted on twitter have to be seen to be believed, covered in capital headings and bold colours, exclamations and dire warnings.  He gives every appearance of having got his PR technique from the mad professor book of publicity.

The forecasts are pretty difficult to understand, and fairly vague in many respects, with different levels of confidence included in the forecasts, and comments about the date range for some pats of it. 

In the end in 2011, there was a storm surge, but it wasn't in the place it should have been and so affected the southern coast of England, and not the Netherlands or the east coast.  He claimed in his Autumn 2011 review to have been right about all major weather events, which is certainly not the case, unless you accept that floods predicted for the East Anglia, Netherlands and Belgium happening to be in Bournemouth instead is a "hit".  And there is the paradox about the whole service.  It seems to me that there is something to his solar-lunar technique and he is able to predict weather patterns and unusual events, but not with any accuracy or conviction which would make them useful to ordinary individuals.  The storm surge wasn't where it was predicted to be, and subsequent predictions have also failed to materialise:  of snow and ice last winter, and the hottest August "for 300 years" turned out to be fairly mild and not terribly warm.  He criticised the Met Office for their 2009 forecast of a barbecue summer which turned out to be damp and cold, but didn't apologise or mention his own failure in 2014.

Recent dire predictions of snow and ice have been wrong too, earlier this winter when the heavy snow apparently went to Holland and Germany instead of making landfall here, and for February 17-19, 2015, when Piers Corbyn warned of a period of diabolically cold weather, thundersnow and ice.  In fact in my area of the country it has been relatively mild, we haven't had the promised snow.  He noted that the snow might be delivered a couple of days late but it hasn't arrived, although it has become colder.  But then it is February.  I could have made the prediction that there might be snow, it would be cold and possibly windy.  Buying a prediction which says diabolical cold and snow is on the way only makes sense if it actually is.  If it doesn't arrive, or arrives in a different place or on a different timescale, it's useless.

From my observations I would say that it is incorrect to say that there is nothing to the Solar Weather technique, but it isn't accurate enough to be used for general weather forecasting and there is probably not enough evidence that it is a real mechanism for anyone to pay the website fees and buy the forecasts.  What irritates me most is that Piers Corbyn will jump on any defect in the Meteorological Office weather forecasts, and yet goes silent when he has got it wrong and advised the government to prepare for snowmageddon and it hasn't materialised.  It's fine to be critical of other people, as long as you apply the same level of discrimination and criticism to your own output - if you don't, you look like a charlatan.

I won't be surprised if time shows that there is some merit in Solar Weather Technique, but I shall be surprised if Weather Action is still in business when the time comes, frankly, unless it becomes a lot more reliable, and openly admits its mistakes when they occur.  At the moment, Piers Corbyn seems to be pretty much allergic to saying that he got it wrong - he always wants to explain why things were different from the prediction, or why it went the way it went, not realising that to a customer that part of things, the explanation,  is irrelevant unless you have apologized for charging them £25 for something which turned out to be a work of fiction.

He is a determined Climate Change denier, convinced that the climate change we are experiencing is nothing to do with CO2 and that man has not caused the changes.  He says we are in a mini ice-age, and is vociferous in his opposition to the idea of man-made climate change. I'd link to some more of the videos but they are pretty tedious, and mostly say the same thing: everyone else is wrong and doesn't understand what he understands.  The Weather Action channel appears to be dormant with the most recent videos having been posted more than two years ago, but Piers Corbyn's channel is still active.

I have some affection for someone who appears to be a great English eccentric of the old school, despite my criticisms of him and his company.  I expect Boris Johnson was glad he took his advice for 2010, but he may be less glad of the false alarms that have followed.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Contradictory condition

It's 2.45 pm and I have just washed and changed out of my pyjamas.  I haven't been lounging around in them though I can't help thinking the FlyLady would disapprove most strongly.  I got up this morning determined to get the kitchen under control.  I haven't been feeling well the past couple of days, and have allowed things to slip, but the sad truth is that if it doesn't need doing in order to make a cup of tea or cook on the hob (ie if we still have clean cups and pans and plates etc) then no one else in the family will think to do it.

So... I started with the washing up and managed to turn the water to ice for Tom, who was showering in the bathroom.  It's the only disadvantage I have found so far for our wonderful new heating system - if someone uses water elsewhere in the house, you have a hard time maintaining a stream of hot water.  You soon hear about it if you do this!

I left that for a while and sorted things in the dining room - there are still sundry things from Christmas, including a selection of silly hats my mother passed on to me, which need to go in a box and be put in the loft.  I put them in a box.

I mused that I am a person full of contradictions.  I am tidy and untidy, organized and disorganized, clean and dirty.  My drawers are neatly organised, and I know what their contents is and where it is, but on the surface there is chaos.  I am obsessively clean when it comes to preparing food, washing my hands at the beginning but also if I have to touch a door handle, drawer handle or any other possible contaminated surface.  I make sure that I never prepare meat and vegetables on the same board, I hotwash anything which has been used for raw meat and especially am careful with anything which has touch poultry. Meanwhile, dust accumulates on the windowsills and my windows are gradually frosting over with coal dust and grime and I barely notice it.

I will tidy up beads and cotton reels into jars of similar colours, and sort stones and shells into categories known only to me, but I will happily go blind to piles of washing or bags of stuff waiting to go to the charity shop unless I start having to climb them in order to get to the fridge.  It's so much less interesting. 

I emptied the dishwasher and refilled the dishwasher, washed up pots and pans, put the gammon from last night in the big fridge.  I scraped out fat and dark brown material from the pan that it had cooked in and wondered whether the rehabilitation of fat as no longer the source of all ills extended to the gubbins which is left at the bottom of a pan when the joint has been cooked?  I remembered my grandparents scraping it into a bowl and frequently eating bread and dripping for a snack, and wondered whether it would be considered healthy or unhealthy to do that now.  I'm not much of a carnivore (another contradiction - I can take or leave most meat but I sometimes do crave a steak or lamb chop) and I've never much liked gravy, but the gubbins in the pan was attractive.  I scraped it out and into the bin, feeling guilty (about the waste) and virtuous (about not having eaten it) at the same time.

I managed to make it more or less respectable, changed the tablecloth, and then sat down to write my blog about intellectual property in Second Life, and before I knew it, 2pm had arrived, and I was still in my pyjamas.  As the postman has delivered the second parcel for my next door neighbour, I knew it was likely she'd drop in to pick them up, and so decided it was time to make myself respectable for an external audience, which I have now done.

I must now tidy up the living room in case she accepts my invitation to have a cup of tea, and comes in!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Finding my normal again

Alien overloards infect the cucumber....
You know how some days you click on something in Facebook and it takes you to a blog and then you read a couple of posts and end up on a link from there and then read a couple of items which takes you somewhere else and...?  Sometimes my life feels like that.

I got up this morning thinking that today TODAY I would get back to my fly lady apprenticeship.  I tried the FlyLady method of cleaning and organizing the house a few years ago, and though I untimately let it slip, I still do certain things I learned to do then.  I still (erratically) keep a control journal and attempt to note any important correspondence or phone calls in it.  It was the most useful thing... although I have failed to add my addresses and phone numbers to the most recent one, because... well because I am lazy and can generally find those things when I need them in my phone.

It was cold in the house when I woke up.  Not freezing cold, I'd only turned the central heating down, not off, but it was cold enough that I didn't want to have my bath until the house was warmed.  You are supposed to dress properly to laced up shoes (although who wears those around the house nowadays except for FlyLady devotees, I don't know) and I hate putting on my day clothes if I haven't had my bath.  So I pulled on jogging trousers and a top over my pyjamas and tiptoed downstairs like a naughty child, for all the world as though the FlyLady could actually see me.

Strike two was not going straight to the kitchen to shine my sink.  It would have been pretty difficult to do, and not just because my sink is ceramic and not very shiny at the best of times.  The kitchen was devastation city with dirty crockery piled up by the dishwasher, which was full of clean crockery, and the sink itself had been piled with dirty saucepans and tins from the oven. 

We had a semi-disaster yesterday when I discovered the freezer hadn't been properly shut the night before and the alarm had been going off since the previous evening.  It is a very tiny and pathetic alarm, which my daughter assumed was a smoke alarm running out of juice ("I'd have wanted to know that too!" I said, when she used this as an excuse for not investigating or telling me so I could investigate).  As a consequence we had a merry variety of foods in various states of defrosting - and we took pot luck for dinner depending on preference.  I had a melange of defrosted seafood, and very nice it was too... but the children all cooked their own stuff and then played Jenga in the washing up bowl with the debris.

So I emptied the dishwasher and restacked it, washed up the pans and tins from last night, but left them drying on the draining board instead of drying them and putting them all away as prescribed.  Guiltily I sat at the computer and to assuage my housework guilt posted three blogs on my Caliandris Pendragon blog about Second Life.

It occurred to me that I could have been a celebrated blogger by now, given that there were only seven UK blogs to be found on Google (or more likely Yahoo) when I first started blogging in 1998, and people used to say to me "You're writing a what now?"  because they'd never heard of a blog, didn't have a computer except at work, and couldn't understand why anyone would.

But life intervened, I gave it up after six months, and although I have had a lot of different blogs since then, I haven't gone back to writing properly every day the way I did then, because I tend to dissipate my anger and passion in the comments stream on the Guardian or on Facebook or Twitter.  I no longer blog properly, recounting the great websites visited, because I am too busy being Mrs Angry of Market Rasen.

So.  I achieved that item on my to do list, did some tidying up, dealt with the tv licence people on the telephone and then, house warmed up, went to have my bath.

I took my lunch with me on the basis that I would be multi-tasking and therefore saving time but the days when I could read, eat lunch, have a bath and chat on the telephone all at the same time are long past.  I can say without fear of contradiction that it was counter-productive having lunch in the bath.  Doh!

I couldn't even juggle book and plate and so I meditated on the fact that I do so enjoy writing, and so I really ought to be more disciplined and write more.  Now that I have started, I can't help thinking that maybe I should return to a more disciplined approach and plan out what to write and draft it before I put pixels to page.  I'm used to the spontaneity of blogging... but maybe I would write better if I were less spontaneous and put more effort into it.  Or maybe I'd never get around to it at all.

A couple of weeks ago I found some letters I'd received from my brother when he was in Australia and later at University.  I don't recall ever having written to him, but it is clear that I did, and he writes of crying with laughter at my descriptions of various family events.  It's been a long time since I made anyone cry with my writing, but maybe I'd like to try that again.  Flylady can wait... posterity needs me!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Home-made winter soup

It's definitely soup weather, later than most years.  I love soup, and since my friend Jane gave me an amazing liquidizer, it's easier than ever to have smooth vegetable soup whenever I feel like it.

My method with soup is easy.  I usually use carrots and potatoes as a base for my soups, and I use onions or leeks (prefried) as flavouring, with garlic if I fancy it.  I add anything that comes to hand - parsnips, leftover vegetables, beans, spinach... though be aware that the colour turns from a lovely orange to a rather greeny brown on the addition of a lot of greenstuff. 

So... ingredients
6 carrots
2 or more potatoes
Any leftover vegetables or vegetables you'd like to add
2 onions (chopped and fried)
1 large tomato or a bunch of smaller ones
stock - either fresh or reconstituted pots or cubes - but watch out not to add too much salt if using commercial stock, lots of them already have a lot in.  I used to use chicken stock, but I have progressed to beef and I like that better although it doesn't smell as good when cooking, strangely.
butter/oil for frying
garlic (optional)
Worcerstershire sauce

Fry the onion and tomato and set aside.  If very fancy you may want to skin the tomato before chopping and frying.  Add garlic if wanted.

Roughly chop all the other vegetables, put in a pan and cover with stock.  Bring to the boil for 30-60 minutes, making sure the potatoes and carrots are cooked. 

Depending upon whether you have a plastic blender or a glass one, you may have to leave the soup to cool before blending.  My posh blender has a different problem altogether:  if you follow the instructions and tightly fit the lid onto the blender with hot ingredients, it fountains out of the top when you begin to blend.  I learned the hard way, with hot soup on my cupboards, toaster and myself, that one should leave off the stopper in the middle and cover it with a clean tea towel!

Blend until smooth.  Add in the fried onions at this point to blend them in too.  Return the blended ingredients to a clean pan.

Reheat and then test the soup, and add the extra ingredients like worcestershire sauce, seasoning, maybe a splash of balsamic vinegar, to get the soup to taste the way you like it.  Some soups with parsnip and carrot can be very sweet and need balancing with salt and pepper, others need a little sweetness to bring out the flavours.  Anything goes.  Play with the ingredients and note down if you like extra onion, or not so much onion etc, to help next time!

I like my soup hot in a bowl with a dollop of cream or creme fraiche or yoghurt in the middle.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Home Education under threat again

I've heard from several contacts now that Home Education is once again coming under the spotlight because the authorities, OFSTED and NSPCC believe that it is possible for home education to be used as a cover for abuse. 

Local authorities have been agitating for more control over home educated children for a long time, but the last time that the NSPCC proposed that there should be more controls, we successfully fought off but it seems that they are going to try again.

One of the first things any home educating family has to do when they start home education, is to decide upon their educational philosophy.  This is partly because case law has established that education is efficient if it achieves what it sets out to achieve, and it is pretty much impossible to work out if that is true withoutfirst deciding what you are setting out to do.  When I first thought about home education, that seemed like a simple prospect.  Of course, I wanted my children to be educated... didn't I?  But soon you realise that you have to sit down and work out what that actually means. 

Those of us who went to school were squeezed through a system which assumes all children have the same basic ability to learn how to read and calculate, and that if you only apply yourself, you can succeed.  Except this isn't true, as anyone who has been through school knows.  You have different levels of ability to concentrate on different things, you have different attitudes to sitting still, to being quiet, to learning about the Romans.  What inspires and excites one will bore another. 

The education system assumes that anyone will want to achieve five GCSEs, go on to A levels and then to university.  Indeed, as Sir Ken Robinson says, the ulitmate aim of the educational system seems to be to become a professor and remain forever trapped in the education system.  Success in the terms of school, is success at school, which is the achievement of exams.  But many children who pass through the school system fail to achieve exam success, and still go on to live useful lives.  Don't we also need people willng to work in shops and cleaning offices and hospitals? For some people their pleasure in is helping people, serving people, selling things - all things whih school measures very poorly.

More sadly, many children do succeed at exams, and have a bright future ahead of them but then become depressed and suicidal because of the risk of failure, or because they are unhappy people who happen to have succeeded at school stuff while feeling a failure at everything else.  Or have been bullied, or have been made to feel that their owly worth is their academic success. 

Education, in its purest sense of the word, I realised, is not about pushing in a lot of facts and figures and letting a child regurgitate them in an exam.  It is about drawing out of the child the potential that is there in the first place.  Which a school cannot know, because it is a psychopathic institution, as Peter Senge says.   He means by that, a school is not a learning institution, adapting its procedures to fit the pupils within its walls.  It is, like justice, blind to the people who are currently within it, and blind to the differences in those people, treating all the same.  This equality can be presented as a positive, but it can most surely be presented as a negative... especially if you are one of the people whose skills are not valued or tested by school.

So I decided when I came to think about my educational philosophy,  that first, I wanted my children to be happy, secure in themselves, not bullied (as bullying had been a feature of my son's school days) and able to know themselves, and grounded in a life where they weren't coerced into doing English when they longed to run around the park, or made to do Maths when they longed to play football.  Responding to their interests, accessing maths through daily life, shopping for food, English through the spoken word, leaving them free to learn at their own paces, was my aim.

Of course, this presents the authorities with a problem.  They are not empowered to test a home educator in the way that they can test a school against the national curriculum, because home educators are not obliged to follow the national curriculum, any more than private schools are.  Without their tick boxes and national curriculum they feel lost, and so a lot of local authorities use the same tick boxes they use in schools, to establish that parents are teaching their children more or less the same curriculum they'd be learning in school.  Except, they don't have to. 

I had an inspection once.  I'd been lied to and told that I had to have one, which I did not.  I was completely and utterly honest with the inspectors.  When they asked me about maths I said I didn't teach the children in that sense at all.  We did maths when it came up in everyday life, counting change and calculating weights and measure for cookery.  The fact that my daughter outperformed her peers when helping out at a jumble sale, showed that her mental arithmetic was far better at five and six than those who had been subjected to maths lessons each week was irrelevant, apparently.

I learned from the inspectors that they had no knowledge of home education at all.  They weren't even interested in it - the differences, the benefits, the drawbacks.  They hadn't read any of the authors which home educators are directed to when they begin to home educate - John Taylor Gatto, John Holt ("Oh I might have read something by him in college..."said our inspector), Roland Meighan and Alan Thomas.  They were ignorant of the differences between a teacher and thirty pupils and a parent and three.  They not only didn't know, they didn't want to know.  A more perfect example of a non-learning organization it would be hard to imagine.  And their business is assessing education.  It's a nice irony.

Ordinary people, the ones who have gone to school and now put their own children through school are nearly always highly critical of the idea of home education, and see it as a slur on their parenting that you have chosen to home educate your children.  But if you can talk to them about their own school days - the teacher they hated, the subjects they hated, the bullying, the feeling of not fitting in - it seems these are universal experiences and then, people begin to understand and see the situation rather more openly and less critically.

If you look at the history of state education, you will find that it was never the aim of it to educate the masses to the best of their ability.  It was to get the urchins off the streets, and to educate the masses to be useful to the industrial machine, that's all.  And although it has only been about a numder and forty years out of the length of human history, the authorities have been pretty damne successful at persuading the people that school is best and that it is dangerous or difficult to educate your own children unless you have a degree in education... and sometimes, even when you do, given that I have supported a number of qualified teachers also having problems with local authorities.

Those same people can immediately see, as the NSPCC and the inspectors can see, how it would be possible to neglect or abuse your children if you withdraw them from the public eye.  And of course, that *is* possible - in fact it is happening in every town in the country, after school.  Most abused children are attending school, and the fact that they are seen by teachers and other pupils may mean that their abuse is picked up... but for many it doesn't.  If being in the public eye was an antidote to abuse, then no school children would be abused.  Sadly, that's not the case.

There have indeed been some cases where children who were allegedly being home educated were abused and in some cases murdered by their parents or carers.  But if you look into the detail of those cases, most of the children abused and murdered by their children while "home educating" were already known to the authorities before they began to home educate.  The authorities have the ability to go into a home where they suspect a child is abused, whether that fmily is schooling or home educating their child.  They don't need new powers to do that, they already have them.  The problem is not that parents use home education as cover for abuse.  The problem is that even when concerns have been expressed about a child, the authorities do not use their powers to protect children.

It's possible to shoplift when you go into a shop, but I don't do that and I'm sure you don't either.  We'd be pretty annoyed if all shops insisted on searching our bags and turning out our pockets on the off-chance we might have done.   It's possible to drop your wife off the cross channel ferry in the middle of the journey because she insists on clearing away your meals befre you're ready, but most of us will put up with the annoyance and not murder our spouses... not because we are watched or checked up on, but because we're nice people.  Most people are nice, love their children, want what's best for them.  Which isn't regular inspections by strangers who don't understand how their intervention may change the dynamic in the family.

The NSPCC is talking about welfare inspections to ensure a parent has not been abusing a child out of school.  The inspections the local authorities are talking about are inspections to ensure a child is being educated, in line with the education act.  They're different things.  Do we send inspectors in to check that parents with children under five are not abusing them?  No, not unless concerns have been expressed by someone that the children may not be OK.  Why should children in home education be different from that?  If we spend all our money in checking up on all the parents who are not abusing their children, how much money will be left for checking up on those who *do*.

The inspections the local authorities talk about, are the impossible inspection of a child against an unknown aim selected by the parent - for that is, literally what the authorities have to inspect against.  It is perfectly OK in home education for a child to aim to be a horse rider, an astronomer, a dentist or an artist at the end of their education, and if they can be shown to have talent and to have ability in that area, it would be hard for the authorities to argue that a child wasn't being educated according to their age, ability and aptitude, but at the same time, very difficult for an inspector to assess.  They usually fall back nowadays on looking at the core subjects of the national curriculum and trying to check that the education a child is receiving is covering that. Which it may not be, even though absolutely compliant with the education act.  Most children pursuing their dream will learn the core subjects simply because they are needed to fully understand nearly everything in our informational age.  But not necessarily because the parents have been offering lessons in it.

That's without the additional problems that some inspectors don't know the law, and try to exceed their powers.  One told me that maybe the local education authority was allowed to "vary" the law, as they are able to do in housing law.  I pointed out that this housing variation is actually written into the law, which it is not in the case of education.

Periodically, it seems, the NSPCC decides to stir up trouble by suggesting that home education is a cover for abuse, and periodically we all have to cease what we are doing and fight that idea, to retain the freedoms which have made home education such a joy in England, and such a pain in many other European and Scandinavian countries.  So here we go again....

Tell us about you

I've been compiling a blog about Methylisothiazolinone and other related chemicals, as I have become more and more sensitive to its use in washing up liquids and other products, more and more of which are containing these chemicals.

In the course of compiling lists of those products containing MI and those which do not, I have been visiting a lot of company websites, which has started to make me very critical of the way that they use the "about us" page on their sites.  So often, companies use it to blow their own trumpet about their products, their ethical behaviour, their reason for making the product, without telling you a single thing about the people behind the company.

Quite often, you have to dig to discover whether a company is in the UK or not.  Having been stung by customs duty on a number of purchases abroad, and not wanting to waste a lot of money on postage and packing, I try to buy British where at all possible.  For others with the same problem, the contact us page usually - but not always - gives the company address.  Often it is a webform to allow one to ask questions.  I'm presuming that legally they need to give a company address somewhere on the website, but I'm not sure that this has been legislated about in the way that paper literature has been.

It's most frustrating when the companies put a picture of their people, or CEO or founder, and still tell you nothing about them.  The trouble is, descriptions of a company's ethical policy or philanthropic record is so much less interesting without the people.

Sometime people tell you almost too much.  Being a member of the Facebook group on MI allergy, I received a linkto a company selling products, in which the salesperson said more or less that selling the products was going to be her way to a life of luxury as it is a low risk high rewards business.  Making it sound like a pyramid scheme which overprices the products, it told me far more than she would have liked us to know, it seemed to me. 

Transport of despair

The government announces a 15 billion pound investment in roads.  Roads, people.  Not public transport, which would be the greenest way of bringing the most happiness to most people, but roads.  The bloated fat cats in Westminster need their transport, and hopefully the changes to that dreadful road down to Cornwall will cut the time it takes for them to get to their holoiday cottage in the back of beyond, don't you know?  /end sarcasm.

One of the commenters on the Guardian story suggested that people being able to drive out of Cornwall for a variety of reasons might also be important.  I'm not denying that Devon and Cornwall have been badly served for public transport and road infrastructure for a long time, and that probably does deserve investment.  But if the government has money sloshing around for transport, it seems to me that they should use some of it to improve public transport before they start making the roads shiny.

This area of Lincolnshire still has people in the signal boxes!  Although we have a journey of only 19 minutes to our county town, Lincoln, it is made very difficult to commute there for work. as I said in the Guardian comments myself "...It seems that the powers that be in this area expect you to drive and have a car, and if you don't, screw you. There are trains which thunder through Market Rasen station all the time on their way to Lincoln, but only two stop at the station in the morning - one at 6.22 am and the other at 7.39 am. As it takes 19 minutes to get to Lincoln, our nearest large town and employment centre, this means that you can get to town for 6.40am or 8 am roughly... if you can get on the second train at all, which is not infrequently impossible as it is a single carriage cattle truck. If you can't get on that train, you are stuck for two and a half hours before the next train stops.
We are killing our planet with our reliance on fossil fuels and cars. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren would rather like some of that money spent on improving public transport so that they can still breathe in 2050 - and I'd like some of it spent now so that commuting 19 minutes to town isn't an impossible dream."

And it's true.  The public transport system available in the capital is decades ahead of the system I have access to in Lincolnshire.  And it isn't good enough.

I am wondering how it is that the government justified the nationalization of the railways.  The East Coast line, which was taken back into public ownership, made £225 million in profit last year, and people were very pleased with the services it offered, but they went ahead and reprivatised it big fat anyway. so now the profits will go to the shareholders and not to the public purse.  It's no wonder at all that the governments books aren't balancing, with the income and possible profits going to private firms and the costs of transport infrastructure all being paid for by the public purse - and that includes train infrastructure - it's only the profitable parts that are in private ownership.  We own the costly bit.