“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.