Monday, 20 July 2009


I dressed in my most official suit, stiff white collar and freemason’s tie. I carried my briefcase out to my car, put it in the boot and reversed out of the driveway. I know I could have walked next door, but it doesn’t hurt to let the Smiths take note of the symbols of my status. 

Frustratingly there was nowhere to park outside Smith’s house and after ten fruitless minutes I was forced to pull back into my driveway. 

Retrieving my briefcase with a flourish I strode up Smith’s path and rang the doorbell, noting the time on my watch was precisely 1.50pm. Smith failed to open the door for a full 20 seconds. I made a note on my clipboard. 

Smith ushered me in without a word. I wrote down “surly” in the space on my form for Parent Attitude. I looked around the hallway with keen interest and indicated a door to my right. 

“This, I take it, is your environmental provision for educational activity?” 

“It’s the living room. You know it is! This house is a mirror image of yours…” 

I wrote down “inadequate” in the appropriate space on my form. 

Smith led me into the living room where a girl of about seven years old was reading a book. She was a petite, pleasant looking child. I had expected her to be obese and was surprised to find this was not the case. I wrote “malnourished” in the appropriate space on my form. 

She looked up from her book with wide, unblinking eyes. 

“Hello!” I said. “Let me see if I can guess your name. I imagine it’s something like Sharon or Kylie?” 

She shook her head causing her hair to tumble in cascades of curls. 

Chelsea?... Paris?... Posh Spice?” 

Smith sighed heavily behind me. “This is Miranda, Mr Badman.” 

“Miranda? Are you sure? Hello Miranda, I’m Lord Badman of Becta. Well…. I soon will be, anyway.” 

Miranda gasped and her hand flew to her mouth in horror. I was slightly taken aback. “I’m an inspector!” I said grandly, to reassure her. 

“The Becta Inspector,” smirked Smith. I glared at him and made a note on my form. 

“I’m here to determine the unsuitability or otherwise of your home education.” 

Smith made a strangled noise. His daughter continued to stare at me with huge, worried eyes. I decided she was just overawed with the importance of her visitor. Perhaps I could autograph a copy of my report for her before I left. 

I turned at the sound of the door opening behind me and watched as a lad of around 12 years old came strolling in clutching a trowel. He stopped short when he saw me and glanced uncertainly at his father. 

“And you must be Wayne?... Troy?... Rooney?...” 

He grinned inexplicably. “Keef,” he said. “Keef Smiff!” 

I nodded and began writing this down. The lad watched over my shoulder. “That’s three ‘f’s in Smiff,” he laughed. 

Smith Senior was chuckling too. “You’ll have to forgive my son’s sense of humour, Mr Badman. His name is not Keith or Keef – it’s Robert.” 

“Rob – I prefer Rob,” said the lad. To my horror he held out his hand. I looked at it distastefully. Goodness knows what sort of germs he was carrying. I harrumphed and began crossing out the entry on my clipboard. I wrote “inappropriate attitude” on my form. 

Miranda sidled up to her brother and spoke in an awed whisper. 

“This is the Dark Lord Bad Man!” She glanced nervously at me. “He’s from somewhere called Spectre… and he’s an insect….!” 

“Cool!” said Robert and flopped onto the sofa. 

I glared at Miranda and wrote “over-active imagination – possibly due to abuse” on my form. 

Smith said, “Kids, Mr Badman has written a report to the government making recommendations concerning how you should be educated and monitored. Despite meeting with various home educated kids and their parents he appears to have missed all the points. I thought if he could visit you here today and talk to you about your thoughts on home education then maybe, just maybe he might glean a tiny glimmer of understanding….” 

“And examine all the areas where you are completely wrong!” 

“….or maybe not!” Smith concluded with a sigh. 

“First of all,” I said, “Can you show me your desks?” 

Miranda looked nervously from me to her father. “What sort of insect is the Dark Lord?” she asked. 

“I am not an insect. I did not say I was an insect. I said I was an inspector.” 

Smith smiled reassuringly at his daughter. “They’re a little higher on the evolutionary scale.” He said. 

I wrote “lacks proper respect for authority” against Smith’s name on my clipboard. 

“Desks?” I asked again. 

Smith indicated a writing bureau in the corner of the room. “They use the bureau and the kitchen table. There is also a desk with a computer on it in the little study room.” 

“Study room?” I was confused. “MY house doesn’t have a study room!” 

“You had your back to it when you came in here. It used to be the space under the stairs, but I took out all the panels, strengthened the buttressing for the staircase and put in electric points. It created an ideal open plan space for a computer desk and filing unit.” 

I wrote on my form; “Forces children to work in the cupboard under the stairs. May also be structurally unsafe.” 

“As the head of Becta I am greatly concerned with technological provision.” 

Miranda gasped again and looked worriedly at her brother. “Whose head does the Dark Lord have?” she said, fingers fluttering around her throat. 

I coughed loudly for silence before continuing. “Now, do the children have access to a computer?”

“I just told you they did!” said Smith pointedly. 

I held up my hand. “I’d like to hear it from the children.” 

“We have access to a computer,” Robert intoned in a robotic voice. 

“A real computer?” I asked. “Not something else your father has knocked up. For instance does it have a proper monitor with something like a Dell or Acer logo on it – not one that says EtchaSketch?” I laughed at my little joke, but it went over the children’s heads. I wrote “unable to recognise parody” on my form. In my opinion that can often become quite a handicap. 

“It’s a proper computer,” Robert said. 

“I’ve looked up Fifi,” chimed in Miranda. 

I imagined Smith had been showing her the recommendations for personal examination proposed by Baroness Delyth Morgan, until he explained it’s some sort of flower fairy TV character. 

I wrote down “unsupervised / unrestricted internet access condoned” on my clipboard.                                                                                   


Friday, 17 July 2009


Bit of a contretemps with a Big Issue seller outside Marks & Spencer this morning. Now don’t get me wrong, I have total sympathy for these people, but that’s no excuse for poor grammar.

Big Shoe,” she was calling out. “This week’s Big Shoe.”

I hurried across. “Excuse me, what are you saying?”

Big Shoe,” she repeated, waving a copy in my face.

I pointed to my wife a couple of paces away. “Can you see that lady shaking her head with her hand over her eyes? That’s because she doesn’t understand what you are selling!”

“It isn’t!” hissed my wife.

I took the magazine from the vendor and pointed to the masthead.

Big ISSUE! See? Not, Big SHOE, Big ISSUE. Now, say it again properly.”

“Are you going to buy that one then?” she asked, holding out her hand expectantly.

“That’s not the issue, is it?”

“You just said it was! £1.50 please.”

“I imagine you were home educated,” I said sadly. “It’s not really your fault.”

The vendor was looking at me with a dark expression. “I’m not ‘Home’ anything. That’s the whole point, isn’t it! I don’t have a home. If you’re talking about school, then it may interest you to know that I went to Roedean.”

I was irritated to hear my wife snort behind me. Deciding that there was little point in continuing the conversation I harrumphed and began walking away.

“Stop thief!” yelled the vendor. I thought she had gone mad until I realised I was still holding the magazine. I stopped abruptly, spun round and held it out apologetically. The vendor was right behind me and ended up receiving the magazine forcefully against her chest.

“Hey! What’s your game, then?”

“I really am terribly sorry, that was an accident.”

“I want my money!”

“I don’t want your magazine.”

“I can’t sell it now – it’s damaged. And you touched me in an inappropriate place. I know my rights!”

At this point my wife hurried over, extracting a £5 note from her purse. The vendor was drawing back her leg and taking aim.


When we pulled into the driveway I was still nursing bruised shins.

“I could have had the police on her, you know. That was unprovoked assault.”

“Not from her point of view.”

“She was still calling out ‘Big Shoe’ as we left – did you hear it?”

“Let it go, Badders please! Just give me a hand in with the shopping,.”

My wife headed for the door laden with a couple of bags while I chased a frozen chicken around the car boot. I had finally grabbed it when a voice “halloed” behind me. I jumped banging my head on the boot lid. Turning around I saw Smith heading for his front door carrying a toolbox.

“What did you say, Smith!”

He paused. “I said ‘Good morning’, Mr Badman.”

“Is it? Is it a good morning?” I advanced towards him.

“What’s that you have there? I sincerely hope it’s not part of another outlandish home-ed project. The children will be unable to find Scooby-Doo inside the television if they unscrew the back of it,” I laughed at my own little joke, but Smith regarded me stonily. No sense of humour these home-edders!

“They are building a robot,” he replied.

I stopped in my tracks.

“They can’t do that!”

“I know enough about electronics to show them how to attach a battery to a series of motors. You don’t need a degree in physics.”

“But you’re not qualified. What about health and safety? That screwdriver looks sharp for a start. What if one of your children falls over? What if they start fighting?”

“You are being ridiculous.”

“Are they wearing safety gear?”

“They’re only assembling a simple kit. They aren’t using arc welding equipment.”

“I’m relieved to hear it!”

“That’s next week’s lesson.”

“Oh my God!”

“They don’t need any special safety gear for what they are working on today. Most of the model is cardboard and Blu-tack.”

“Blu Tack? Then they certainly need safety goggles.”

“Oh come off it.”

“Goggles, gloves, flame retardant aprons and safety shoes. Make them sign out each screwdriver too, so you can make sure they all get returned.”

Smith was looking at me oddly. “Is that how it’s done in school, then?”

“Certainly not! It’s best not to let the children anywhere near dangerous equipment. No, it should be demonstrated by the teacher whilst the pupils watch and write about it. AND…” I held up my hand for increased dramatic effect, “The fun part is they get to draw a picture!”

Smith nodded, but there was a scowl on his face I couldn’t fathom. He turned to go inside.

“Wait, Smith! As the chairman of BECTA I demand to know more about this robot!”

Smith paused, staring at the front of his house for a moment before spinning back to me. He marched a couple of steps closer, put the toolbox down and folded his arms.

“All right. You win! I have had enough of this.”

“You’ll send them back to school?”

“What? No of course I won’t send them back to school. What I will do is allow you to see the children, because I’ve had enough of your narrow-minded, blinkered attitude. You can see them, you can talk to them. You can ask them about their home education. I'll even bring some examples of their work. We can meet at a suitable, neutral environment; cafe or library - you can choose.”

“I need to see them in the teaching environment so that I can determine if it’s suitable,” I said, waving the frozen chicken at his front door.

“It’s a semi-detached house joined onto yours! It’s identical. There aren’t dungeons, secret sweat shops or chains and whips! But no… no you’re right. You can come in. You can inspect the environment. Although I’m totally opposed to state interference and inference, you can come in.”

“Because you know deep down I’m right!” I smiled triumphantly. I started heading for the gate.

“Not now!” Smith moaned. “We’re in the middle of something. We don’t have time for being interrogated with a frozen chicken. We will agree an appointment.”

I took exception to this. “Smith, if people know they have an appointment to be inspected they have time to prepare. They make sure they only present those facets of establishment and policy that show them in an unrealistically favourable light.”

“You're a former school inspector, so you should know..."

“Exactly!....No, wait…. That’s different!”

Smith sighed heavily. “All right. Tomorrow afternoon then. 2pm.”

“No, that’s not how it works. I make the appointment!”

He watched me through half-lidded eyes.

“Tomorrow afternoon. 1.50pm,” I declared.

Without another word, Smith picked up the toolbox and headed back to his front door.

I hefted the frozen chicken delightedly as I headed for my own house. I was already formulating a list of questions for the children.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


I sat holding my head in my hands as my wife stood regarding me from the doorway. 

“Are you alright, Badders?” she asked with concern. 

“No… headache…” 

I sighed heavily and stood up, pacing across to the French windows. I had to get that Tupperware box back. Perhaps if I explained to Smith. He seems halfway reasonable for a home-edder. He could even pass for normal given the right lighting. My mind made up, I strode out of the lounge and headed for the front door. 

After I had rung Smith’s bell, I calmed myself with a quiet mantra. “I am an expert. I have done nothing wrong. I am admired for what I know. School Education is good.” I was quite pleased. I especially liked the last two lines. Perhaps there were the beginnings of a speech there for when I am made a peer. I tried again a little louder. “I am admired for what I know. School education is good.” 

Unfortunately Smith chose to answer the front door when I was half way through. 

“….know. School education is good!” 

“Eh? ‘No school education is good’? What’s this, a change of heart, Mr Badman?” 

“…I was just…rehearsing…for something….look there’s something I need to discuss with you. Don’t try and confuse me with your home-ed nonsense.  Could I come in?”

“We’ve been through this already. I’m not prepared to let you in. The children are safe, well cared for and receiving tuition as detailed in the educational philosophy we provided to the local authority.” 

“But I need to come in!” 

“No – you do not.” 

“I demand to be allowed in.” 

“Will you please lower your voice? The children are still in the process of de-stressing from the overbearing intimidation meted out by the state education process. They have a deep mistrust of authority, especially where it is enforced by belligerence and shouting.” 

“I don’t want to see the children! I want to see….your… um… sandwich boxes…” 

“My what? My God, my wife was only saying the other day that you lot will want to examine the contents of our fridges next in case there are grounds for dietary abuse.” 

“No….its….ah…it’s not the contents…. So much as the utensils they come in… Plastic boxes. I’d like to see your… um… your… plastic container collection….” 

Smith’s eyebrows knitted over severely narrowed eyes. 

“My plastic container collection?” 

“I….like….plastic….containers.” My voice seemed to be deteriorating into a whispering squeak. I was appalled to hear myself say; “I…collect them. I wondered if you had any…to spare…. They don’t have to be empty… I ….like… cleaning….them….” 

“Are you feeling unwell?” 

“Mmmmm….. headache….lie down….” 

“Yes – I think you better had!” 

“Could I… come in there and….lie down?” 

“Among the plastic containers?” 

“Yes!.....or…or indeed….no…” 

We were both distracted by the arrival of a police car pulling up to the kerb. Two officers climbed out and began walking up the garden path. I don’t know why I did it, but I put my hand over my face and ran past them, back to the safety of my own property. 

I rushed into the back garden. I now had only moments to try and redeem the situation once and for all. Grabbing my folding ladder from the shed I put it up next to the fence as close as I could to Smith’s property. Racing up the steps I peered into their garden. Thankfully it was empty and I had a clear view of the conservatory. Peering at a wicker coffee table inside, my heart missed a beat. I wasn’t certain, but it looked like the Tupperware box on top. 

I quickly ran back into the house, retrieved my expert-standard binoculars and was back at the top of the ladder in less than two minutes. Fumbling with the focus, I nearly fell twice and had to grip the ladder hard to steady myself. What on earth was the matter with the blasted things? Perhaps I needed to focus on something further away and then bring them back to bear on the coffee table. 

I tried looking at the chimney pot. That was better, but still blurred. I tried the next house over. Now it was much clearer and I lowered the angle of the binoculars a little. 

Greatly puzzled, I seemed to be looking at something resembling rice pudding, but more yellow. It was moving, which was even more confusing. As I stared, a pudgy hand came into view and began squeezing lumps of the ugly mess. Greatly intrigued, I spun the wheel to pull the magnification back a bit… 

I found myself staring at Old Mrs Mort through an upstairs window. She had removed the top half of her frock, her upper torso bulging against formidable looking undergarments. She was massaging some sort of medicinal cream into the thick folds of her upper arms, but had frozen to the spot now that she had seen me at the top of my ladder watching her through expert-standard binoculars! 

With mounting horror I dropped the binoculars and began waving wildly. 

“I’m not spying on you, Mrs Mort, I wouldn’t do anything as disgusting as that! Not….not that I’m saying you’re disgusting…no, no no! I mean you’re very…um… you know! I mean if I was twenty years older….no, no, no…that’s not what I mean…” 

Her mouth was opening – she was going to scream! 

I waved my hands frantically. I suspect I may have looked like a large bald headed bird with a small distinguished beard. 

“Look, you silly woman. I’m not interested in you!” I waved the binoculars at Smith’s conservatory. “I’m trying to get a better look at Smith’s lunchbox!” 

She threw back her head and screamed. Several times! 

In panic, I overbalanced on the ladder and tumbled headfirst into Smith’s garden. Fortunately, I was unobserved (I found out later it was because the entire Smith family plus the two police officers had rushed to Old Mrs Mort’s aid). Something seemed to take over my body and I found myself opening the door to their conservatory – grabbing the Tupperware box from the table and rushing back to the garden. 

With no ladder on this side I was forced to improvise. The Smiths have a circular trampoline and I began bouncing vigorously. I sincerely hope this does not constitute the full extent of their provision for physical education. 

Sadly, the sight of me bouncing up and down clutching a Tupperware container of dead guinea pig did nothing to settle Old Mrs Mort who was now screaming loud enough to set off several dogs in the neighbourhood. I must say she has impressive lung capacity for someone in whalebone stays! 

Finally achieving the correct velocity and trajectory (something I imagine the Smith children would struggle to calculate); I leapt back over the fence. Unfortunately one foot came down in the fish pond, but at least the Tupperware box and I were intact. 

Old Mrs Mort had lapsed into silence (I learned later that she had apparently entered a catatonic state of shock and hasn’t uttered a sound since). 

I quickly hid the ladder and rushed back into the sanctuary of my house. 

My wife was observing the commotion in the Avenue through the net curtains as two burly police offices broke down Old Mrs Mort’s front door. I shoved the box under a cushion and made out I was nonchalantly reading the paper. 

Autonomous Ed sat at my feet and the stupid creature began licking my wet shoe. Perhaps it was an attempt to say sorry. 

“I don’t know what on earth is going on out there!” my wife said. 

“Hmmm?” I asked, feigning bored disinterest. 

“I said….Good heavens, what is that cat doing?” she asked, turning her eyes back into the lounge. 

Autonomous Ed had finally succeeded in retrieving a goldfish from my sock and was glaring at me in triumph. 

After all I’ve done for that animal! 

Friday, 3 July 2009


I went down to the newsagent very early this morning. It’s not that I’m avoiding people – I’ve done nothing wrong – it’s just that people sometimes seem to misunderstand the things I’ve done right!

I tiptoed quickly past next door. It’s been several days since the guinea pig debacle, but I couldn’t help glancing at the doorstep, half expecting the Tupperware box to still be there. It wasn’t, of course…

I intended to tiptoe past old Mrs Mort’s house too, but I simply had to stop to admire her clematis. I noticed the bedroom curtain twitching and glanced up to find Mrs Mort observing me sternly. I beamed my best reassuring smile, threw my arms wide and mouthed, “Beautiful!” but she jumped back visibly. I hurriedly tried to indicate the clematis, but she drew the curtains surprisingly quickly for someone in a hairnet and curlers.

Finally, I tiptoed past the Rev. Thomas’ house. I’m sure it’ll all blow over in time, but better to let him make the first move.

I stood in a small queue waiting to pay for my Daily Mail. I was delighted to note that Sir John St John, our local nobility, was paying for his paper ahead of me. I allowed myself an inner smile. Ed Balls has promised me a peerage (that was the deal for writing the report he wanted me to write), so soon I’ll be able to sit alongside Sir John in the House of Lords. Lord Badman. Sir Graham Badman. Not before time, though. I wonder if Sir John would be willing to give me a lift in his Bentley.

Stan, the newsagent was wittering on about some rubbish he’d been listening to on a radio phone in.

“It’s all a lot of nonsense if you ask me,” Stan, was saying. “I’ve never gone in for all that psychic stuff.”

“Hmmmm?” Sir John was counting out coins, clearly only half listening.

“I think the young woman must have been on drugs – don’t you agree? Sex with a ghost – what a ridiculous claim.”

“Ah…. What? What did you say? On the radio was it? Good Lord, that takes me back! I remember many a pleasant evening. Course, I wouldn’t have gone on the radio and bragged about it! Kept it to myself. People wouldn’t understand, you see. Young people today – very brash. I didn’t tell a soul for years.”

“Are you saying you think it’s true?” Stan was open mouthed.

“Of course! Done it meself, several times. I just explained that, didn’t I?”

Stan handed over Sir John’s change, still staring incredulously at him. “You’ve had sex with a ghost?”

“……GHOST?..... Sorry, old boy, I thought you said GOAT.”

Sir John quickly exited while I re-evaluated if I would want to accept a lift in his Bentley after all. Stan was still staring through the open door as I handed over the correct money for my paper.

“Did you hear that? My God, you have to wonder what goes on in public school, don’t you?”

“You surely don’t think deviant behaviour is encouraged at public school, Stan?”

“Well, I wouldn’t know. I went to the local secondary and we didn’t have goat molesters there. We had everything else, mind!” he added with a low chuckle.

“But at least you were safe,” I pointed out. “Not like all these children in home education. Who knows what goes on there? All sorts of atrocities. Did you know it’s a cover for child abuse? Physical, verbal…. all sorts.”

“I didn’t realise that. Funny, I can think of lots of instances in the news where it’s gone on involving teachers and church officials, but I don’t remember an instance with a home-ed kid.”

“Oh you don’t need physical proof. It’s the opinion of a leading expert in the field. What more evidence do you need? Ask yourself why these kids aren’t in school in the first place.”

“Cos a lot of schools are rubbish and fail the children on lots of levels?”

“How dare you!” I snatched my paper off the counter. “I shall give serious consideration to taking my custom elsewhere in future.”

Stan shrugged. “Your choice. That Mr Smith comes in here with his kids. They live next door to you, don’t they?”

“Yes they do and there’s a case in point. You DO know they’re home educated?”

“Yes. They’re nice kids. Very polite, seem ever so intelligent. Never any trouble, either. I can’t say that for the local school kids.”

He pointed to a notice on the window. It stated that no more than two children from the local school would be permitted on the premises at any one time.

“If you ask me, schools are a breeding ground for bad behaviour and attitude.”

“Well I didn’t ask you! I do not need your limited opinion. I am an expert, I need no-one’s opinion, thank you very much.”

“D’you know what Mr Smith told me yesterday?”

“No,” I hissed. I just wanted to get away. I should have just walked out.

“Some sicko left a dead, mutilated hamster on their doorstep. Stuffed in a Tupperware box an’ all! I’ll bet that wasn’t done by a home-ed kid!”

“It was a guinea pig, not a hamster. And it wasn’t mutilated, it was simply covered in someone’s blood.”

“He said it was a hamster.”

“Well that rather proves my point, doesn’t it? How can you entrust the education of young minds to a man who doesn’t know the difference between a mutilated hamster and a blood stained guinea pig!”

“They would have taught them in school to recognise the difference would they?”

I opened my mouth to respond – but found I had lost the will. I sighed.

“It must have been unpleasant for them. Family pet, too,” I said.

“Eh? Well, someone’s family anyway,” he responded.

“What? You mean it… it WASN’T theirs?!?”

“No. They don’t know who it belonged to.”

My head was reeling so much I missed the next thing he said and had to get him to repeat it.

“I said they’ve called in the police. Forensics, I shouldn’t wonder. Could be a big story in the papers. Who knows, I might need to take on extra staff!”

When I arrived home Autonomous Ed was sitting on the front wall. I’ll swear he was smiling. After all that animal’s done to me!