Bare Legs, Brambles, and Broken Glass

This morning I woke up really late, after not be able (willing!) to fall asleep last night. There was sunshine for the first time in ages, I heard a basketball bouncing, I heard my children shouting and my wife laughing.

My FOMO kicked in, and I threw a fleece robe over my bare body, slipped on some Crocs, grabbed a coffee, and went outside. I’m nothing if not classy. I sat on some inherited-from-my-sister wicker furniture, which is in an awkward bit of my garden. As in, a foot away and facing our greenhouse, which got broken in the last major storm. So broken glass carefully picked up and on the wall behind me, the greenhouse’s snarl of brambles now exploding out of the broken pane, and my naked ass sat out in that sunshine.

It’s not a bad place to start over.

My wife was trying to do more clearing of our personal jungle – I started earlier in the week, arms shaking from the weight of whatever you call those giant clipper things, leaving brambles all over the ground and trampoline. The kids were cleaning off the trampoline. Here we all were, on the sixth morning of our self isolation due to the Coronavirus.

Last week we started social distancing. Thursday we went to a remote part of Wales and down a mine with friends. Friday we went to the park. We were skipping all classes at that point, but still around people. Saturday was the last really risky day – one child at her beloved drama school, the other at his newly found basketball classes. It was too much for me. I was done.

Sunday Suzy and I were meant to go to Story Slam, which is a really great monthly event here in Bristol. Each month has a theme – origins, pride, growth, fire – and anyone can put their name in the hat for a chance to tell a five minute true story about their life, or fill in an anonymous slip to be read out. I’ve done both several times, and while I love being on stage, I also always walk away feeling really privileged to have heard other people’s stories. So it was a wrench to cancel that event and stay home, though the kids went to their grandparents for a couple of hours. I don’t think I really understood that that would be the last time they saw these five-minute-away grandparents for many weeks, many months, perhaps a year and a half.

Monday Suzy went to work. Monday night I told her I couldn’t take it anymore. By then, scientific reports were making the situation pretty clear, as was the horror stories coming from Italy.

Tuesday she stopped going to work; she’s lucky to be able to work from home, for now. Wednesday, her company moved to having everyone work from home. She went out Tuesday morning to pick up some supplies, but myself and the kids have solidly been in since late Sunday afternoon.

With the many (too little, too late) government announcements this week, slowing society down step by step, it was made clear that anyone in a high risk group needs to self isolate for an initial period of twelve weeks. I *think* that starts Monday, but for us it’s happening already. Two of us have (mild) asthma, but one of us has strong enough anxiety that she (spoiler: me) is taking the self isolation thing seriously. I don’t want to take risks; I don’t want to expose other people to risk.

I didn’t know where to start this post. With my twenty four hour mini breakdown earlier this week, with that evening I couldn’t stop crying? With taking up cross stitching in an effort to stop picking up my phone and becoming overloaded? With the walk I took with my family one night, where we didn’t see another living soul?

Or maybe this:

We had a delivery dropped off a couple of days ago. I opened the door, explained we were self isolating, and just asked the man to please put the delivery on the floor. He asked if we were okay and wished us the best. He started back to his car, then turned and asked if we needed anything. We did. Milk. And a cucumber, the mainstay of one of my children’s diets.

He asked me to give him ten minutes. I ran around, digging for the change to pay him. Then I heard the knock at the door.

I opened it, and he was already driving away, no payment required. He rolled his window down and gave me a big thumbs up, as I shouted, ‘Thank you!’ He left a big four pit of milk and two cucumbers on our doorstep.

People are good. Small acts of kindness help our mental and physical health. Smiling at each other is not in quarantine.

Stay safe and well, all. I have a feeling I’m going to be back here a lot. Please do leave comments, message, whatever. We all need to keep in touch. I’m on facebook as Alison May – you can also find me there at Adventures in Unschooling, which links to my main profile in a few shared places. I’m making a lot of stuff visible publicly. I’m also sporadically on Instagram and Twitter as @alisonmariemay (I won’t be accepting facebook friend requests from people I don’t know or haven’t chatted with, but am always open to a chat in the comments section!) I’ve also caved and downloaded TikTok, which I shamefully love, but I’ve yet to post anything there. However, I have watched a lot of gay men lip synching and people dancing on rollerskates.

Five years.

In September 2013, I watched my children play and climb a fountain on what would have been their first day of school.

Today, as they near the end of their fifth year officially being home educated, I sat in the same spot and watched the same thing.

What an excellent five years it’s been, and what a joy and privilege it is to watch my children ripen.

It helps. 

You don’t have to have hot air balloons bright and dancing on the day you turn seven, but it helps.

The smell of food stalls lining the paths, the glow of lights in every direction, music pulsing deep and loud as the balloons light up in beautiful rhythm.

You don’t have to spend the afternoon stretched on a picnic blanket, or eating lukewarm chips, or running in circles laughing on the day you turn seven. You don’t have to stay up late to watch balloons dance.

But it helps.

Cool stuff, check.

I’ve been mindful of wanting to both do more cool stuff, as well as appreciating the things I experience that are cool.

The night glow at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta:

image

Everything about the fiesta is fun, but this was our first night glow. It was also our first time attending with a camp friend – and her daughter accidentally knocking my daughter’s tooth out!

Tape exhibition, Cardiff:

image

image

This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s an interactive art exhibit – a treehouse/tunnel/otherworldly place suspended between trees….and made of nothing but sticky tape. The time inside this thing felt like a little bit of magic.

Arnos Vale Cemetery:

image

Despite living so close to this place, we’d never been before last week. It’s a Victorian cemetery and woodland. I’ve been to old cemeteries thst have been reclaimed by nature, but this took it to the next level.

Graves are interspersed into old woodlands, with dark paths twisting around. I swear we saw a Leopard Cat, but I accept it may have actually been a Bengal.

Barleymow’s Maize Maze, Chard:

image

image

I LOVE MAZES. And this one went on long enough to freak out both my father in law and son. All us women were laughing rather cruelly and helplessly at their worry we’d never escape.

The kids then climbed and conquered a mountain made of hay bales, before whizzing down the attached steep slide.

Gromit hunting!

A couple of summers ago, Bristol gave us an amazing gift: Gromits all over the city, and beyond. If you don’t know who Wallace and Gromit are, please google them now; you’re missing out. Aardman Animations is based here in Bristol, and they agreed to using Gromit’s image in statue form – 80 of the large ones, and many half sized. Gromits were painted by artists, musicians, writers, charity groups, and beyond.

We spent much of that summer clutching maps in our hand, hiking around to find different Gromits.

20150704-095501.jpg

Gromit hunting led us to explore places we’d never been before – and to appreciate ones we had.

We marched around the city centre in swimming costumes after finding many Gromits and playing in the fountains. And then we found a suitably themed one in the aquarium!

20150704-095632.jpg

We were thrilled to find a ‘mystery’ Gromit in a well established, quirky market (that sells nut free vegan chocolate cake! Hurrah!)

20150704-095732.jpg

We got to board a boat we’ve admired many times from shore.

20150704-095801.jpg

While we had a fun and colourful summer looking for these amazing statues, they served an even more astonishing purpose: every person involved in the project did so with the knowledge that at the end of the summer, the statues would be auctioned to raise money for our local Children’s Hospital.

20150704-100007.jpg

Each Gromit sold for unbelievable sums of money – some over fifty thousand British pounds. These eighty sales, plus sales of half sized Gromits and assorted memorabilia, raised millions for the hospital. We have personal links to the hospital, and know firsthand how wonderful it is. The outpatients waiting room is one giant play area! Downstairs features an art gallery of things made by patients. They have dedicated play workers who bring joy and light into little lives.

20150704-100417.jpg

We spent that summer dancing in the front hall of a music venue to the jazz music built into one Gromit. We were lucky enough to have my parents visiting and get to see some Gromits with us – including a very early morning viewing of the one in the airport, before we flew to Italy. We met people we wouldn’t have met otherwise.

We watched YouTube videos on the project, including movies on individual statues being painted. We visited Aardman Animations to peek at all the mini replicated Gromits. We waited five hours in a queue to visit all eighty Gromits in a grand museum exhibition at the end of the summer. We printed many copies of Gromit outlines and coloured our own designs. We even painted our own:

20150704-100736.jpg

All in all, it was one of the best summer experiences of my life.

We get to do it all again this year, with another Aardman character: Shaun the Sheep. We got our map of locations last night, and I can’t wait for another summer of sunset visits to huge old parks, people walking all over the city with huge smiles on their faces, and the thrill of seeing giant colourful sheep everywhere we go! Best of all, the money raised this summer goes to Children’s Hospitals around the country.

If you live near Bristol, I cannot recommend coming to hunt down a few of these statues enough. We’ve not yet got around to making a huge picture collage to commemorate our summer of Gromit hunting, but I know the memories will stick around, anyway.

Best of (the areas surrounding) Bristol! Jet Age museum, Gloucester.

We’ve been talking a lot about World War 2 recently, mainly sparked by M’s interest in fighter jets. I asked on our local Facebook home ed group about places to go see jets, and Jet Age Museum was recommended by a few people. It is only open weekends and bank holidays, though it apparently will open for booked visits of home ed groups during the week! Admission and parking are both free.

It’s worth mentioning that this place is right next to an airport – the sort of airport with loads of small planes and helicopters constantly taking off and landing. We accidentally found the airport first and hung out there for a few minutes, which was one of the happiest mistakes we’ve made in awhile!

Parking at Jet Age also borders airport fields, albeit from a bit further away. There’s a nice vantage point and picnic tables!

20150203-171353.jpg

This is another smallish museum…though it’s worth noting it’s only a ten minute drive from Gloucester City Museum!

It features old jet planes….mostly indoors, but a few outdoors. A couple of the cockpits are open for children to sit in – and it’s here I must say that half of the charm of this place are the volunteers running it. They are on hand to discuss each jet in detail…and in our case, to tease the kids about backwards helmets, provide a hunt for letters, give out fantastic posters, etc. Just so friendly and knowledgeable, which might really appeal to someone with an older child very into old fighter jets.

The highlight (which sadly I missed, as I can’t climb ladders!) was Suzy and the kids going up for a tour of a Vulcan – a 28 foot climb from ground to cockpit. They sat in the various seats of the five in the plane, learned what job corresponded to each seat, and spent a good ten or fifteen minutes exploring the cockpit in detail. As such, there was a bit of a wait for this – and a minimum height restriction. Both kids and Suzy adored it.

All in all, I’d recommend this place. But if you have an hour drive to get there, do google other local things as I don’t think you could spend more than a couple of hours here. (Unless you went to the little on site cafe, which we didn’t on this occasion.) I’d also recommend a donation….this place is a local labour of love, and I like supporting that.

20150203-171948.jpg