Tag Archives: home education

April 10

Ha ha, we got our dump of snow – 8 straight inches, so we’ve done even better than our friends up at Tomintoul, who measure in metric. Here’s a picture of my holy-of-holies on the morning after and guess what, I forgot to shut the door again the night before.

That’s a week ago now, we’ve had lots of family and friends up before, or for, Easter, the snow took a few days to clear and now it rains and the drips are cascading through the caravan roof again and the ground is as it should be, ie capable of supporting life and it’s time to think about sowing seeds.

Ben, Abby, Will, Robin – they’ve all been helping with major cobbing jobs – the insulation layer for the floor of the new room in the Long Byre and, in Robin’s case, some wall creation in the little new (temporary) bathroom – he was stuck for a whole day with his head in a dark corner finishing off the rough parts of the wall there, poor lad, while I prannied about trying to elicit sympathy for the difficulties I was having with the plumbing work above his head. I think I make these difficulties for myself because we’ve spent so many years now washing crouched in a little hip-bath that the very thought of reclining full-length in a real bath gives me night terrors.

However, now it’s Easter Monday and, us being in an irreligious country, Annie has had to go back to work at St Andrews this morning, with Abby and Robin on the Magebus – I mean Megabus of course, but that slip-of-the-finger gives me a nice idea…. They get off at Dundee, from where they go on back to Glasgow (they don’t have to work Easter Monday for some reason). Will and James have meanwhile headed back to the wilds of upper Donside to pack in as much as possible before the tree-planting season ends. How any saplings survive planting in that kind of drought is anyone’s guess, but I guess that these operations are on such a scale that even a thirty percent failure rate can be coped with. When Robin was engaged on some tree planting a couple of years back he was outraged at the disrespect shown to the baby trees. Now I hear chaps with planting-spades are to be replaced by low-flying aircraft which will fire the saplings into the ground in sharp-ended plugs. Maybe it was April 1st I heard that.

So, I’m back to raking through the piles in the little caravan again, trying to avoid the drips (I really must order that pond-liner); unsuccessfully hunting for the last page of “Manhunt in Golden Mall” which will hopefully have a link or something in this posting. It was the year before the London Bombings that I wrote it – I remember that, because Annie was regularly using buses into Russell Square in the week we were there – and the thought of trying to remember the ending after so many years seemed an effort too great to contemplate – and why, with all these disks and storage devices, floppy, hard, pocket-lighter sized, I only had one single hard copy, and an incomplete one at that, is just one of life’s minor mysteries, my life’s anyway – but in the end I bit the bullet, wrote a new ending and it didn’t take too long. I wrote this particular story for a proposed anthology about boys’ relationships with their dads, but it wasn’t accepted; however by that time I’d got rather fond of Baddo and Nazir and I’ve written, or roughed, or planned, three more stories about them, with ideas for a few more to boot. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve just remembered that other thing I’d been going to mention in the last posting; the book on mathematics which I came across in the little caravan, one which I’d been going to use with Maddy when we embarked on the fascinating matter of circles – 360º maths, as we call it. It’s called Vicious Circles and Other Savage Shapes by Kjartan Poskitt and it’s one of a series of maths companions he’s written to make the subject more accessible to youngsters. I think they’re quite popular, though whether amongst students or teachers/parents I don’t know. I have to admit the book brought back all the old smells, sensations, twitchings and sweats which maths books always induced in me at school. I don’t know, there’s always been the same progression with me whenever I try following a new approach to understanding maths, and it goes a bit like this:
Step 1, usually an anecdote – love it, most interesting.
Step 2, a bit of mathematical information – got it, yes I’m following this.
Step 3, more anecdote – yes, yes, I’m still amused.
Step 4, a little more information and – yes, I am truly following, this I do believe this will finally be the approach to maths….
Step 5, a bit more information and – what!?!? How did you arrive at that? How can 5 possibly follow from 4? How can you say it’s an easy step.

That’s how it’s always been. Roger (“very-simple-for-someone-with-the-most-basic-maths-understanding”) Penrose is the Emperor amongst the Names but many other names hover on the dim rim of my consciousness – maths geniusses every one, I’m sure, but I just don’t get it. I don’t have maths in my soul.

– Take Paul now. He’s my oldest friend, so I assume we must have some stuff in common. But Paul says he loves how maths takes you out of the real world into a world of pure logic and beauty: sometimes when he’s on a plane he shuts his eyes and sets himself a mathematical problem to solve. Well, I don’t know. When I’m on a plane I like to watch angels up against the blue-black sky, so I keep my eyes open. Mediaeval mystics used to calculate how many angels could be fitted onto the point of a pin. See what a nexus you can stray into when you step out of the real world. Maddy seems to have a natural feel for numbers, which doesn’t mean that she willingly consents to twenty minutes of the kind of basic maths tuition I can offer; but it also doesn’t mean that she has any more positive a reaction than mine to Kjartan’s excellent guidance… She reckons there’s only one number that’s important and that’s four, and only one unit important enough to count in and that’s horses’ legs.

My own idea of congenial – nay, comprehensible – maths is more like the one I tried out with Robin, during one of his home-education years, on the windy wintry beach at St Andrews, when I demonstrated the construction of a perfect square with a stick and a piece of rope – much to his chagrin, as he reckoned all passing students or dog-walkers were staring at the mad old geezer and his unwilling accomplice in a very disconcerting way. He wanted – at that stage of his life anyway – the magic without the science, the knowledge without the embarrassment; but I don’t think it can be done.

I suppose, when you consider the gulf between that kind of carry-on with ropes and sticks and the modern-day repertoire of symbols and processes for every conceivable thing, you realise what an incredible work of construction mathematicians have been doing over the centuries, turning abstract concepts – little more than elusive shadows across the mind to begin with – into a formal language that others (well, some others) can comprehend and record and pass on to posterity. But which posterity? Because I do wonder if the human race is actually dividing up into those who can enter that other, perfect, conceptual world and those who just can’t. The division may be evolutionary, and already irreversible.

Well, where was I?…. maths, Penrose, physics, geniusses, angels…. I’m also going to leave a link to my story “The Page Boy and the Stars”, which was one of four I sent as a birthday present to my father a good few years ago (it was the only one of the four he liked; the others are currently being hammered into the texture of a bigger book I’m writing for Anna). Like everything else I write, I don’t know if it’s a children’s story or not.

Paul re-read my “Timeghost” the other week and felt impelled (I hope it was impelled, he might just have been being nice because I’d written a review of Gaia’s Children) to give it a review on Amazon. He reckoned it was in the tradition of George MacDonald, which I take as a compliment, especially in a book that, in retrospect, really feels quite lumpy. But the same would be even truer of Page-Boy, which I do think of as a sort of homage to our great local forebear.

I see Anna’s also put “The Sundial” into the collection. It’s from even longer ago.


Filed under Coldhome, Writing

March 21

It feels like spring. Which is odd, inasfar as March is normally the month when we expect the last big dump of snow. In fact there have been no big dumps of snow this winter, and it’s all a bit unnerving, especially since there hasn’t been very much rain either. Our water-collecting equipment, which to begin with was fairly Heath Robinson-ish, is starting to get a little more sophisticated, but that doesn’t make a lot of difference when there’s no water to be had. So in effect we’re languishing under the Coldhome equivalent of a Hosepipe Ban: plenty of cooking and drinking water, adequate amounts for washing-up, though it’s better if you just lick your plate; but as for washing, of self or clothes, forget it mate, you’re living in the Post-Apocalypse now….

But hell, who needs to be clean? We had some pretty perfect days before the drought kicked in, though as it got really dry the winds got more biting, especially south winds for some reason (the Cairngorms, maybe). What’s more, the hens, undeterred, have started laying again (considering their advanced age, we get a fair amount of eggs, though Maddy is determined we are going to have chicks this year, even if it means nailing the selected mothers down to their nests). Also, I have sold our first trees from our mini-nursery, which has put a proper spring into my step, though it does mean that, apart from a handful of rowans, hawthorns, junipers, and a few scots pines, our selling stock is now at seedling rather than sapling stage: too tiny to be allowed to leave home.

I did mean to get working in my little Study earlier than this, but the spring in my blood has only this week finally led to my broaching this particular barrel, opening this particular can of worms….

The Mulhollands bequeathed us their old touring caravan, seeing how they don’t tour so much en famille any more, and after Dru had had it for a couple of winters (when we get on top of the technology I’ll put in a picture of Dru’s Caravan in Winter), I got the use of it for my own nefarious. Finally – a study of my own! No-one comes nigh and lives. All Mine.

It leaks. So – this was last summer – I slung a wooden frame over the top of it, got some straw and thick rubber onto the frame, battened down the hatches for winter, and then whenever possible started barrowing earth and grass up and plonking it on whatever rubber the gales had left intact. The rotting walls of the interior I shored up with our favourite building material, cobb (Coldhome’s stony clay mixed to mud with straw and water), and put in plenteous shelves. A table installed, I was then supposed to get on with the business of writing – there and only there.

First problem: cobb walls make for a very damp atmosphere till they’ve dried. I would nibble at the little kale seedlings that sprouted out of the walls to greet me. Second problem: I decided I ought to line the little cupboard with wool, for insulation, and store our seed potatoes there, a job which took up a lot of early December (last winter, half the seed potatoes got killed by frost, but we had no frost this year, apart from one night, and on that sole night I somehow left the door wide open – but the seeds still suffered no harm). Then Santa Claus got the lease of the caravan to store his stuff in. Then, after Christmas, the sub-arctic darkness had really got into my soul and it seemed much nicer to snuggle up in bed to write rather than having to trail outside into the cold dark and the empty desolation of the caravan. Then in the Christmas holidays Annie and Rachel decided it was finally time to clear out the himalayan pile of “stuff” stored in the top end of the big shed, and guess who most of it belonged to – and guess where it had to be taken off to?

So, finally, in this spring-like March, I’m getting round to organising my caravan, which still leaks a bit, seeing the rubber on the roof is a bit skimpy, and whose mounds of “stuff” are so, well, sub-himalayan in proportion that I don’t envisage much more than a paragraph being produced in here before the autumn.

But it has to be done. On day one, I attacked the various folders of stuff I’m supposed to use in my part of our home-educating deal with the kids. Many folders, many loose sheets, many poly-pockets, all bursting with fine educational fillings. What great ambitions I had – and how paltry what we actually get done, and with how much effort and slithering-out-of-the-inevitable on the part of the young ‘uns…. Here’s a volume of – no, I’ll write about that in my next blog, when I finally (I hope) get round to including a Story. If I go off on that particular tangent this time I really shall be in trouble with the ever-watchful Anna.

Here, more to the point, a list of words I’ve been looking for for Ellie.

Ellie, at six, still shows every sign of being the real academic type. Very articulate, very sharp, picks up and remembers everything she’s told. But reading and writing and numbers….. Well, Annie says she’s still very young. Boring, that’s what it is: getting into the nitty gritty of learning how to put a word together, why should she bother, when she’s surrounded by a constant stream of interesting information, always someone on hand to tell her stuff or read her a story, or DVDs for the odd hour when she finally acknowledges that her tongue needs a rest.

This word-list means that phonics (they sounded like the latest educational flavour-of-the-month anyway) have been firmly chucked out of the window (Ellie still doesn’t acknowledge any difference between a letter and a number), and out have come the old vowel-stories I did six or seven years ago for Maddy. They were designed to help guide her through the vagaries of vowels in the English language. They might have been successful in that, who knows? Maddy has never answered a teacher-style question in her life, or made any comment, critical or otherwise, about anything like a story, but as she’s one of those who read to Ellie nowadays, I suppose she must have picked something up from somewhere….

The vowel stories essentially mean, from Ellie’s point of view, a whole load of story that imparts a very small chunk of serious information, which is right up Ellie’s street of course. And in fact right up mine too, because the words of the titles have actually become the basis for her to learn to read some words. She’s even analysing them herself now, breaking them down into phonic components.

So, like everything else in home education, doting parent can claim no credit. If Ellie is idiosyncratic, then you should see Gwyn, whose self-taught reading skills date from when he decided he was going to read the Bible from cover to cover – an edition with the tiniest possible lettering on its close-packed pages. We finally realised it had to be the Bible because no other work of literature could possibly have scandalised his mother quite so deeply.

But back to the vowel stories – which, because they’ve never been properly written up, we’re going to try and present in audio form. Rather low production values, I fear, but, well, this is the Internet – and it’s free. There are five stories in the initial flight, The Ape and the Apple, The Eagle and the Egg, The Island of the Imp, The Old Man and the Ostrich, and the Unicorn and the Ugly. They got longer as I warmed to my task, all those years ago, so the first, The Ape and the Apple, is quite short.

The Ape and the Apple – audio


Filed under Stories