Sunday, 28 September 2014

Beer, dumplings and concentration camps

The continuing miseducation of La Child continues.

You might think that, having ignored this blog for a good 7 months, we'd be fairly far advanced with our give-it-all-up and go-live-in-a-cave-somewhere scheme but, alas, no. Our grand plans, involving giving two fingers to the day job and moving out to the sticks, haven't yet quite come to fruition; too much to do, too little time, chronic excess procrastination. But the fact that La Child is no longer hampered by school timetables does mean that we can occasionally take her off somewhere without it costing the earth or it resulting in a nasty letter and a fine from an irate headmaster. 

So, here I sit, on the balcony of a rather nice Spa hotel somewhere in the middle of Bohemia in the Czech Republic, sipping tea like a good little Englishman should and enjoying the view over a lake bounded by sloping pine tree covered hills. It's my mother in law's 85th birthday, and as a birthday treat we've brought her back to her homeland. 

My mother in law (or Emily as we shall henceforth call her, because 'mother in law' is too many letters) was born here in the Sudetenland in 1929 and (you may not be surprised to learn this) had to leave in a bit of a hurry back in 1938. Her father was the head a trade union and a member of the social democrat party, which in the late 1930s put him on a collision course with that other lot over the border in Germany. When the Czech government decided that discretion was the better form of valour and went off into exile in England, so did Emily's father, taking Emily, her mother and her brother with him.

Apart from a few weeks in 1946 and a week in 1991, Emily hasn't been back.

All this is really just to emphasise that there's a bit of history here, and La Child has been immersed in it for the past week. In between drinking insufficient quantities of dunkel and eating goulash we've visited Emily's old home (which she left aged 8 in a very big hurry one day back in 1938 without taking anything with her and without realising that she'd never be back), we've had a tour of the town hall (which her father had built and in which he worked), we've met the current incumbent of her father's old office (in her father's old office), we've been given a tour of the town by the director of the local museum, we've learned about the concentration camp that was based here, we've visited the town where La Child's great grandparents were born. Yesterday we drove over the border to Germany to visit relatives that La Child never even knew she had. 

Some of this has been met with, well, a certain studied indifference, but beneath the gruff 'see this face? bovvered?' exterior lies a sponge still and it's all going in somewhere. In calmer moments when she thinks we're not looking she'll quiz her grandma about her family, or in passing will wonder how it is people could be so nasty to each other during the war. When talking to her friends we'll hear her describing her day, telling them all about what she's seen and read and heard. No lessons, no workbooks or formality, she just pretends not to pay any attention and learns.

I have to confess that I occasionally have had misgivings about this whole home ed lark. We started off terribly formally but, like everyone who does this, have mellowed with experience and now do very little formal at all. The timetable has gone out of the window, the workbooks sit forlornly, forgotten in a corner. She plays tennis, she climbs climbing walls, she cartwheels and rounds off in gymnastics, but times tables and spelling tests are a thing of the past. There have been times when I've been almost catatonic with concern about that, so conditioned have I been to believe that the only way to know is to be told. But of course it's not the only way. La Child speaks well, can conjugate verbs, can easily work out what change she's due back when she buys something, has a good grasp of history, is comfortable in groups, whatever the age. She knows how GPS works, she understands about triangulation, grasps the basics of flight and can swim like a fish. 

Point is, the longer we go on the more comfortable I become that we're doing the right thing. As I sit here on this balcony La Child lies, her chin resting on her palms, just inside the open door talking to a friend on her iPad. She's told him about the trip to Germany yesterday, she's given him a grand tour of the hotel, and she's now telling him all about her grandfather, the leader of a trade union in the 1930s and member of the Czech government in exile during the war. I smile, sip my tea, and enjoy the view over the lake bounded by sloping pine tree covered hills.