Saturday, July 25, 2009

Standby me... for Iran

Recommended this link to BoingBoing before I realised that I might blog more effectively if I put links and comments on my own blog, rather than into the black hole which is the Boingboing recommend a link page. So here I am.

There is a version of Stand By Me, not meant for sale, intended for downloading in Iran, available on the page linked here. It features Iranian singer Andy Madadian, and Jon Bon Jovi among others. I like this idea a lot. Maybe I'll use it.

Rare books

One of the frustrations of genealogy on the net, is how often the things I would like to see are obscured from view, even when out of copyright. Libraries with books published in the early 19th or even 18th century, still obscuring their content on Google books, Oxford journal's "notes and queries" from other centuries... things which can't possibly be in copyright, still kept away from ordinary researchers unless they pay access fees.

Some of these things can be found on the Internet Archive... and now there is a new place to look, in the rare book room. Scholars who want to look at various printings of Shakespeare folios, people who have an interest in history and want to see what was published by a scientist in his lifetime... there's all sorts of fascinating material from libraries all over the world.

This is my vision of the future, with free access to art, history, books and literature, freely available to all on the internet. Until we have complete intellectual freedom, how do we know what we could become? How far could I go with my genealogy if everything was free?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Strange Looks

When we came back from camp on Tuesday, we had all caught the sun. I was lobster-coloured across my neck and chest, Ali had a red nose and cheeks, Kate had a red nose.

Gradually the red faded to brown, as it does. (Along with the memory of foul stenches and blocked loos.) What it usually does not do is to get darker by the day, even thought you have kept out of the sun and moisturised. Every time I saw my son, his skin looked a little darker, until he appeared to be turning Asian. I asked him what was happening, and he simply shrugged and indicated I was going nuts.

Until yesterday evening, when I saw that his hands and palms were considerably browner than the rest of him. The after-sun lotion he bought includes artificial tan. Each time he has slathered it on, he has been adding tan... but as he wasn't aware the after-sun lotion contained tan, he hasn't done this in an even way - and hasn't washed his hands either. I agree with him that the Nivea people ought to make it more obvious that the after-sun he has contains tanning lotion... it looks very little different from mine which does not.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

HES Part the Third

On Tuesday morning, it was again too warm to stay in the tent. I made a cup of coffee, but then needed to go to the loo. I went to use the loo nearest us and found that only one was open because the company who were emptying them had locked two of the three (because people were parked or camped too close to them).

I quickly became aware that there was a large queue forming, and became utterly unable to go. I left that loo and walked to the next group of loos which were close enough to the main blocks that people would be likely to make the journey to the main block. They were dreadful... one was covered in excrement, the next was wet all over and with urine pooled in the gearstick lever.

I decided to make the jouney to the main block, which has always been better than the individual moulded plastic loos. They are like the sort of blocks you get at weddings, three women's loos in a unit, and urinals for men.

It was a spectacularly unpleasant experience. Despite the fact that they had only been cleared the night before, the stench was incredibly awful. This was a combination of the chemical, excrement and the overflowing sanitary bin... I was heaving before I had locked the door, and knew I would throw up if I stayed... I staggered out into the blessed fresh air and made for the disabled plastic cubicle next door.

If anything, this was worse... there was chemical and effluent leaking from the loo which stank, AND someone seemed to have put hand towels down it, but I was too desperate to care.

As soon as I had finished, I sought out Andy to complain. I could see that he was working flat out, flattening cardboard boxes to put around the two water taps, because they were getting muddy. It isn't that I don't understand that he was doing his best at the festival to make things as good as possible for the families... I do understand that. I was cross because you have to get the lavatory facilities right for the rest of it to be worthwhile... if people are having to live with terrible conditions they can't enjoy anything else.

He said that they were working hard to keep things usable, but that there wasn't much he could do if the company didn't come and clean out the loos when they had said that they would. I said I thought they didn't have enough, and they certainly didn't have enough if 2 out of 3 were going to be locked by the company cleanig them... he wasn't aware that they had been doing that, and said he would fix it...

By the end of our conversation several things were clear. Things weren't going to magically improve on the loo front. They were working flat out but were still unable to bring it up to an acceptable standard. And I couldn't make it to the end of the week.

I've done a lot of things I didn't enjoy for my children, and I hadn't been expecting to enjoy the week camping in a field, but I was able to do it because I thought they would have a good time. But my edler son was worried all the time that he would pick up something bad from the loos, I was struggling to cope with the awfulness, and though my daughter was enjoying being able to play football and play on the boat, she too was finding the loo situation challenging.

My husband was on his way to pick up Ali anyway, and so I decided I would go with him. My younger son was happy to stay on his own, and wanted to move from the noisy teen area to the less noisy area we were in.

The person I felt most sorry for was Kate, as she didn't want to go home with me, but didn't want to stay without me either. I felt terrible. I also realised that once you added up the money I had spent on tickets, buying equipment and shopping, we could probably have hired a cottage by the sea for a week.

We packed up the car, leaving Tom to take over the main tent and all the food I had bought. Ai and John will go back on Saturday to collect him and our equipment.

As my sister said, I had thought on Saturday that I lived in a dusty and badly maintained house. I hadn't reaised it was a heavenly sanctuary. Being able to use my own bathroom, have a bath, go to the loo was amazing.

It's changed my perspective on hme educators too, however in a much more negative way. It's a dilemma I have felt before, when considering people who do a school at home version of home education, which I think is the worst of all worlds. If I am going to defend my right to home educate the way that I see fit, then I need to defend the rights of people who do it in ways I don't agree with, maybe?

I don't know. I have been pro-choice for many years, while realising that I could never, would never have been able to do that myself. When I was diagnosed with toxoplasmosis with my first baby, even though they tol me he had a 10% chance of being very severely affected by the infection, I knew at once that I could not, would not, harm my unborn baby. Even if I had known for sure he was in that 10% I would not have been able to abort... and watching a programme about how horrible and inhumane late abortion can be, I felt that it was wrong to allow late abortion unless in the most extreme of circumstances where the mother's ife was at risk, etc.

However, I don't assume that I should be able to tell other people what is right for them: one of the tenets of my beliefs is that we all have our path to follow and that what is right for one may not be right for another... but I do not know whether that is actually an amoral position... or immoral.

The same is true of parenting and home education: if I defend other people who do things I would NEVER do, is that an immoral position to take? People who lettheir children have the freedom to drown themselves at 3am? People who ignore the right of othe people to get some sleep, or not to have their equipment broken?

HESFES Part the Second

I found quite quickly that I had made a few mistakes in buying food for a camping trip. It's been a while since I did camping, and I had bought far too much perishable food, which we were going to struggle to eat in time.

I made my first visit to the loos nearest our tent, and quickly realised this was going to be challenging. For those who haven't experienced plastic moulded loos, they have a door with a dodgy swivel lock, and once inside, a minimal amount of room to move about. There is a shelf which has a loo moulded into it, with a separate seat and lid, with what looks like a gear stick next to it.

There is a moulded sink too, which initially dispensed water on pushing on a foot pedal, but the water ran out along with the loo paper before a couple of hours had passed, which left one unable to wash one's hands. Fortunately I had bought a quantity of wet wipes and loo paper.

The most noticeable thing about those loos is their smell. There is a sweet smell from the bue chemicals which are used to flush the loo, and the smell of urine and excrement, mixed in. In the heat the odour builds up, but it also becomes very strong if the loo is blocked by people throwing paper towels down the loo.

I was convinced that there weren't enough loos for the number of people. It was hard to calcuate because although it clearly stated that one loo would serve 7 people working a 40 hour week, it was hard to work out how many people it was reasonable to expect it to cover if they were being pumped out every 24 hours. I assumed that maybe 14 people if they were pumped out reliably. I didn't tour the whole campsite and count every loo while I was there, but I would be surprised if there were more than 25 or 30 loos on the whole site. It wasn't enough.

I don't know whether you could argue that it was or wasn't enough on the bare statistics of 1200 people and the number of loos, but the fact is that many people sent their children unsupervised to the loo, and so they began to be blocked up by children throwing paper down them. Going into the loo to discover that not only had it been blocked, but people had continued to use them after being blocked up was pretty unpleasant, to say the least.

On Saturday night, it rained heavily, and the ten began to leak. It's not leaked before, but it seemed that it had been packed away damp last time it was used (we lent it out to someone) and I was pretty cross to find it was full of bit of rubbish etc too. I moved all the beds and stuff to the middle of the tent and put down newspaper and buckets. It rained and rained, although it had stopped by the next morning.

By Sunday morning, I had visited most of the loos in search on one which was usable, finding many which were blocked or so horrible that the stench was impossible to stomach. The day was hot and so the smell began to be overpowering once inside. Other people began leaving the site by car to find loos.

The Cinema tent was closed on Sunday with a notice saying this was due to vandalism, and there were signs of that both in the condition of the loos and the tales of bad things happening around the camp. However, some of it was due to the inadequacy of the facilities. In the ladies, there were tiny sanitary bins which were full to overflowing... it is easy to criticise people for adding material to an already full bin, but in the circumstances it was hard to know what someone could do, apart from ensure that they had plastic bags with them for disposal.

Ali had a shower in the morning, having been awake virtually all night due to noise, and described it as not just cold but refrigerated. Other people had showers later which were superwarm, and we discovered latterly that it seemed to be a choice between relatively normal temperature - but in the dark; superwarm and asphixiating conditions, with a light; or cold with a light. 12 showers for 1200 people did not seem enough, and there were long queues for the ones with a reasonable temperature but no lights.

Tom got up later, and came and told me his tent seemed to have fallen down in the night, and that all his clothing and bedding had got set before he got to bed. It then emerged that two boys from our group had thought it would be a jolly jape to undo the tent poles on Tom's tent, so tha it had collapsed and in the rain, leaked badly. Having been fairly philosophical about what had happened, thinking it was a combination of wind and poor tent design, he was extremely upset to find that it had been Luke and Aidan, and this affected him quite badly. When it was rumoured that they thought this would be a good joke to be repeated every day, he moved his tent away from the group he was camped with, to a secret location.

The day passed very slowly. The trouble with a field-and-a-tap type of camping is that everything takes so much effort... washing up meant boiling kettles of water and balancing the washing up bowl on my knees, rather than being able to take them to a communal sink and do them all in one go.

I tried to go to the conference session on legal issues in the Badman report, but thought I staggered around the field looking for the conference tent, I didn't find it. Latterly I discovered it had been one of the smaller tents, but having wandered around in the blazing hot sunshine, and having visited one of the block loos (no loo paper, two out of three didn't lock, all disgusting), I was in need of a lie-down.

I forgot to mention the state of the field. It was deeply rutted where large vans or lorries had been driven over it, and had serious cracks too, because it seemed to be extremely dry. This meant that walking across to the main tents, which were some distance away, was extremely tiring. In the dark, with bicycles abandoned all over the field, guy ropes and tent pegs ago go, it was extremey hazardous without a torch. That didn't stop some men going off to the loo without a torch, resulting in wet loo paper and wet everywhere during the night.

By Sunday evening, Ali was desperate to sleep, but couldn't get to sleep because people around his tent were so noisy. As I had room in my tent, I went over and helped him to move his bed and bedding, and he moved into our tent. Fortunately it was dry that night, or else he might have had to sleep clutching a bucket. I went and asked the people next door to switch off their generator at 11.30pm do that he could sleep... I think they didn't realise how loud it sounded from our tent, as it was hardly possible to hear on the other side or through their caravan, but it was very loud where we were.

Next morning, the tent was impossibly warm by 8 am, and we all got up. Ali was feeling a lot better after 8 hours sleep, and more positive, but by the time he had tried to go to the loo, was wanting to go home. Me too... I traipsed around the field trying to find a loo which was usable, and felt sick all the time. As Ali is on immune suppressents, and there was still no water in the loo sinks, I was fearful that he would pick something up.

All the workshops were cancelled and an emergency meeting had been setup for 12 midday. I discovered that there had been vandalism again, and that one of the loos had been burned down the previous evening. People were going from tent to tent, telling people about the meeting and asking parents to come.

I'd already heard from the children that there was some conflict between the officials and some parents. Allegedly one child was damaging equipment in a tent and someone had asked him to stop. The parent came across the tent the berated the official for telling the child what to do....

We expected a chance to express our opinions, as in previous years there has been a "people's court" arrangement that gave everyone who wanted one a chance to express themselves. I must admit that I thought they would be talking about the unhygenic condition of the toilets....

Many people gathered in the music tent, and a microphone was set up for Andy, the rganiser to use. He imediately declared that this was not a discussion group, and that he wanted to inform us about a number of events. He praised the location, said it helped to be away from places where people could invade or disrupt the event, and leaving behind the Yobs who might have done this in previous years by being out of the way from commercial campsites.

The things he announced were... that someone had stolen bottles of Jack Daniels from the cafe, and vandalised equipment; someone had set fire to a loo and destroyed it; theydid not plan to call the police or claim on insurance, and didn't have any money left, so please could we all pay a surcharge to cover the cost of the cubicle; and could we keep control of our children as some under-10s had been found jumping unsupervised into the river - at 3am!

Having expected that the inadequacy of the toilets was going to be discussed, and that we would be given the opportunity to contribute our opinions, I was pretty frustrated by the meeting - and outraged that I was being asked to contribute more money to it. They seemed to think it was a one-off piece of vandalism, but there seemed to have been at least three cubicles where the person had tried to start a fire... one was partly damaged, one was destroyed and the last simply had a pile of ash and burned loo paper in it.

Andy asked to be left alone for the rest of the day, as dealing with the falout from the theft and vandalism was stressful, and I respected that, but I came away feeling that I needed to tell him how I felt about the loos. This was a family camp which was worse than the most drug-fuelled festival....

The Ali and Kate had fun on the boat which one of the others had brought along, although I was worried about them being able to cope if they fell in the river. Both of them can swim as novices, but we have swum very rarely. The river was slow moving and they are sensible, so eventually I gave permission for them to go on the boat.

Tom was off doing his own thing, which seemed to be a festival arrangement of getting up late, eating and going to the music marquee, taking until the early hours and then falling asleep. He seemed completely unfazed by the loo thing, athough of course it much easier for men to go pee in the hedgerow.

I was feeling a bit awkward about the group I was camping with by this time. A few families I didn't know at all had joined the group later on Saturday, and had designated their Gazebo as a communal area. The children were gathering there to chat. I was invited in to join them in a general way, but I found it quite hard to do - and so did Ali, interestingly. I was surprised by how territorial I felt... how resentful I felt if a stranger invaded the area I regarded as my space, and how awkward I felt walking through the next door family's space in order to get to the communal area. It felt as though I was invading other people's space, and I didn't like it at all.

I think if I had been invited to come NOW, and chat to people, I might have done it, but I felt awkward, particularly as I didn't know either of the American families, including one of the boys who had taken Tom's tent down. I might have worked mysef up to it by the end of the week. It really surprised me that it was an issue for me.

By the time we got to bed that evening, they were both dropping with tiredness... and we became aware that there was a party going on beside us. They were playing loud music, incuding a live saxophonist with the loudest saxaphone. Once it got past midnight I began to resent the selfishness of it. Once it was past 12.30 I was really boiling, particularly since even ear plugs didn't help - the saxophone and raucous laughter penetrated the ear plugs.

Eventually, I went out past tents with open candles in them, and asked them to be a bit quieter, and said I thought it was a bit boody selfish. As I understood where we were to be designated a quiet area, I felt well within my rights to tell them off. The folloing day I discovered that the quiet area was the far-flung bit of the field, which is not where we were camped... although I still think that playing loud music and shouting and singing at 1 am on a campsite is pretty selfish behaviour.

HESFES Part the First

I should warn my readers... this set of blogs is not about virtual reality but the real thing... the odiferous noisy place that is first life.

I home educate my children, and have done for ten years. In that time we have joined clubs and groups and camps for home educated children, and I even ran a support group myself for a while. I hve found that each has had its own flavour; people home educate their children for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, and that makes a big difference to how their children are, and how they behave, what attitudes they have.

HESFES used to be the Home Educators' Seaside Festival, because until this year it was situated near to the sea. It's been running for eleven years on a not-for-profit basis, run by Andy and a team of volunteers. We attended some years ago, when the camp was run in Charmouth, at a commercial but run-down campsite. I had a terrible time, which I put down to the difficulty of pleasing all my children at once: my elder son was old enough to be interested in the music events in the evening, but my daughter, who was only about five or six, was too tired by the evening to be interested, and too old to be pushed in a pushchair etc.

There wasn't a lot on camp that interested them, but being near the sea, we were able to go for walks away from the campsite, and we went on a memorable fossil walk with a crazy professor type who route marched us and a random selection of people around the coast from Lyme Regis.

Last year my younger son went on his own, in the care of his girlfriend and girlfriend's mother, to HESFES which had moved to a commercial site in Colchester. There was some trouble there when the festival was invaded by people from outside, and some conflict between the organisers and the campsite owners over commercial food sales from the tented cafe which is usually a feature of the camp.

So... this year, HESFES was to be held away from the coast, in a field which stood alone, but had "plenty of flushing toilets and hot showers". Tom had had such a good time last year, that I asked if the others wanted to go too. They did, and so we saved and planned and bought the necessary equipment (we have tents and basic cooking gear etc) and looked forward to it.

I thought it would be easier this time from my perspective. At 14, 16 and 19 the children are old enough to be able to go to the music in the evening without me if they chose to do so, and they would be big enough and strong enough to help with tasks like getting rid of the rubbish and collecting water.

I had been asked to camp as part of a group, but was wary of this. I find groups of people I don't know very well a bit challenging, and find it hard to relax. My family tend to rub along by shouting and carrying on with each other, which might be a difficult thing - I was worried that this might offend people.

Although it scared me that the field was out of the way, I assumed that plenty of flushing toilets and hot showers meant that the important facilities were available, and I could buy and bring anything else that we needed. I wouldn't have a car, so it was important to predict what would be needed and ensure that I brought it. I was keen to attend the home education conference too, which takes place during the week.

So it was with a holiday air of anticipation that we packed the car on Friday night, remembering to incude battery-powered chargers for phones and a giant water carrier. I was concerned that the weather forecast was predicting rain at lunchtime, because there is nothing so awful as trying to dry yourself out in a wet tent, and so we left at 9 am on Saturday morning. The journey was uneventful, travelling in a convoy with the equipment and tents in my husband's car, and all but one of the children and me travelling in my mother's car.

We followed my husband, who had a SATNAV on board... although on the return journey this proved to be unreliable, leading my husband (and my mother, following) up a small country road to a lovely church at the dead end, and then sulking for a while because they had been forced to turn around and drive back the way they had come. It seemed to suffer a nervous breakdown and declared "take the fourth exit" on a three-exit roundabout, so appeared to have lost the will to direct operations once an instruction was ignored. ( I have to say I think there is commercial merit in a SatNav with emotion - one which shouts, "what on earth do you think you are doing? Get back to that turn off, and do as you're told!" rather than simply sulking and refusing to say anything.)

We found the HESFES turnoff, close to The Hop Farm, which is a local attraction, and drove down an unmade-up pot-holed road, through fields alarmingly full of rusting army tanks (which we discovered were gathering in preparation for a War and Peace exhibition next week) through other fields, through woods. When we had just about decided that this was someone's cruel idea of a joke, we arrived in a huge field, with a tented entrance desk.

We swapped our tickets for too-small wristbands, with an exhortation to wear them in order to gain entrance to any workshop, a programme and sticker for the car. I was directed to what I erroneously thought was the quiet area. I asked after the group which we had been invited to join, but only one family had arrived at that point... and they had no idea where they had gone.

I decided that this was probably just as well, and decided to set up my tent wherever seemed good to me, and we found a spot on the edge of the field, becoming aware with a very sinking feeling that the three blue plastic chemical loos in the middle of the area indicated that the "flushing toilets" that had been promised in the literature were not what I had assumed they were.

Maybe it seems naive for me to have assumed that the "plenty of flushing toilets" were proper toilets, but this part of Kent was for many years the place where East End families spent their summer holidays, picking hops, and living in camps. Many places in the area which are just fields, do have proper brick loos and showers.

We set up camp, noticing the threatening weather, and the boys went off to pitch their own tents in an area far,far away from me, across the field. They decided not to pitch in the teen area, which was placed very close to the main music marquee. Shortly after they left, one of the families who were part of the proposed group drove up, shortly followed by another and another. It seemed that the group had come to us, instead of us going to the group.

John (who wasn't staying) went off to get water, and to check out the main facilities, and came back to report that there were only two taps for 1200 people, and that there were more substantial loos, but that they were still chemical toilets. And 12 showers.

I was beginning to get a bad feeling even as we unloaded the car and I left the others sorting things out while my mother and I went off to get supplies from the nearest supermarket. This was said to be 3 miles away in Paddock Wood, but it seemed further than that. We arrived to find the route to the supermarket closed off due to the summer carnival procession, and so had to turn around and come back... during which manoeuvre we got lost. We found ourselves in a neighbouring village where there was a fete going on.

By the time we made our way back to Paddock Wood, the route was open again, so we went into Waitrose in Paddock Wood and I spent a huge amount of money on things which wouldn't go off without refrigeration, water and a few luxuries to keep us going. I took off my wristband for HESFES as my hand had started to go numb.

We returned, unpacked the car, and I waved off my mother and husband, and set to organising things inside the tent as best I could.