Friday, 14 August 2009


Although I felt I had clearly covered the importance of state secondary education, Robert Smith still didn’t seem to have grasped it.

“As a pupil then, what is the incentive for getting five GCSEs if it’s nothing to do with equipping you for the jobs market?”

“So that you can go onto higher education.”


“So you can apply for university and study for a degree.”


“So you can get a job in your specialist field.”

Robert was nodding solemnly.

“Uh-huh… my cousins did that.”

“Well there you are then.”

Smith confirmed that his sister’s daughters had both recently attained degrees. One in media studies and the other in history.

“Neither of them is working in their specialist field,” he finished, rather pointedly.

“Well… of course it is a difficult job market at present.”

“Both of them are saddled with massive debts. The one with the degree in media studies was declined interviews with the local paper, radio and TV stations. They pretty much told her it was a worthless piece of paper. The other one couldn’t even get a job in Sainsbury’s because they said she was overqualified….”

“…But they both have a degree though, don’t they!”

“Y-e-s….. and they have debt collection agencies threatening them with legal action or bankruptcy…”

“…But they both have a degree though, don’t they!”

 “The girl with the history degree is training as a plumber.”

 “Well there you are then! She has a job – my point proven, I think.”

Smith looked at me oddly.

“She lied about her qualifications on her CV.”

“What? Well, I don’t think I approve of that!”

“She had to tell them she only had three GCSEs!”

I cleared my throat noisily. Robert was grinning in an infuriating way.

“My uncle runs his own business,” he informed me. “He designs computer security software.”

Smith Snr confirmed. “He has some very big contracts, well known organisations, local authorities even a couple of companies in the U.S.

This was more like it. Surely this was a better example to illustrate the importance of state education.

“He owns a big house with a swimming pool,” Robert added. “Drives a flash car.”


“Better than yours.”

“Well I don’t think there’s any need to go into all of that.” I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was being set up for something. Smith had the air of someone about to prove a point.

“Funny thing is…” Smith said slowly, drawing out each syllable. “He dropped out of school before his fifteenth birthday. Played truant – refused point blank to go. Never even sat an exam.” He smiled at me watching for my response.

I silently concentrated on my clipboard for a while... I silently concentrated on my clipboard for a long while...

Eventually I became aware of someone tugging at my trouser leg.

“Dark Lord Badman?” Miranda asked in a whisper. “Would you like to see my dollies?”

“Ummm… no, er… I don’t think I….”

“Yes, Mr Badman,” said Smith. “I think you should. My wife has been teaching Miranda to sew and she has been making clothes for her dolls.”

“Oh.. well sewing isn’t really my field…” I said.

“But surely as an expert you would be interested to take a look. Go and fetch them, Miranda.”

“They’re in the front garden,” said Miranda. “They’re having a tea party.”

I ran a finger round my collar. “Ah well, perhaps we shouldn’t intrude then.” 

“Nonsense!” said Smith with a smile. (Very thin lips, these home-edders have. Genetic defect perhaps…?)

To my great alarm Miranda grasped my trouser leg and began tugging me in the direction of the door. So it was that I found myself outside in the front garden a few moments later, observing a little tableau of dolls sat around the table from a Sindy playset.

“Look, Dark Lord Badman,” said Miranda, picking up a doll. “This one is my favourite. She has lifelike hair that grows when you press a button.

I think I may have recoiled slightly as the object was thrust toward me.

“Umm…oh…lovely. And what... er…what is her name?”


I wrote down ‘lacks imagination’ on my form. Unfortunately that clashed with where I’d already written ‘over-active imagination’ earlier. I think that ably demonstrates the disturbed nature of home educated children.

“And did you make the dress she is wearing?”

“Yes. Mummy helped me with cutting out the pattern.” 

“Oh. Well that looks very good. And this one? What about her outfit?”

Miranda peered at the doll I'd indicated. “Yes, I did that one all on my own.”

I was surprised. I imagine she must have had a lot of help, but had been primed not to say.

“Oh… I’ve left Hannah upstairs?”

“Another doll?”

“My rabbit.”

“Oh… a pet.” A thought struck me. “Did you have any other pets at all… say, oh I don’t know, a guinea pig… perhaps?  One that might have…. disappeared…. suddenly?”

Miranda gave me a puzzled look. “Hannah’s not a REAL rabbit.” Her hand suddenly flew to her mouth. “My Daddy said someone put a dead hamster in a lunchbox on our doorstep.” she exclaimed in a hushed voice.

I shook my head at her. “I think you’ll find it was a guinea pig. I’m frankly appalled that your father doesn’t know the difference.”

“My Daddy said it was put there by some…” she screwed up her face as she tried to remember the right word. “…Sicko.”

“Or…. or it might have been a concerned neighbour who made a mistake after his rotten cat had killed it.”

“Do you have a cat, Dark Lord Badman?”

“Umm….. no….” I could hear my voice rising into that little squeak again.

“My Daddy said the ‘Sicko’ had covered it in glue so its hair stuck out.”

“Well he’s wrong again. It was blood, that’s all… at least… I imagine it was… I mean it probably would have been…. I…. Look where is this rabbit of yours?”

Miranda jumped up with a smile and raced indoors leaving me alone with the dollies tea party.

Now I came to examine the dolls more closely, the costumes really did appear to be very good. Surely Miranda hadn’t made them all. I crouched down for a better look, finally sitting cross-legged on the lawn beside the tiny table. I picked up the nearest doll and made it walk across the grass, allowing myself a little chuckle. How ridiculous I must have looked. I picked up another doll in my other hand and walked it around to face the first one.

“Hello, Mrs Doll. And how are you today.” I asked in a high-pitched dolly voice.

 “I’m fine, thank you Mrs Dolly. And how are you.” I answered myself using a slightly shriller voice for the second doll.

“I’m very well. Do you like my clothes. I like yours. Were they made for you?”

I jigged Mrs Doll up and down. “Yes they are, Mrs Dolly. Would you like to take a closer look?”

I put the dolls together in one hand and brought them close to my face, looking for flaws in the seamstresses work.

“Oh Mrs Dolly, they look very well made. Are you sure there’s no manufacturer’s label inside your skirt?” I carried on the conversation. “Yes. Take a look if you like.”

I turned one of the dolls upside down and turned its skirt inside out to peer for a label. Then I repeated the exercise with the other doll.

I heard a strange strangled gasp behind me. I turned to face the road. In each hand I held a half naked dolly, their legs waving under my nose as I peered intently into their garments.

I hadn’t heard the arrival of the Dial-A-Ride Hospital Transport service. The rear doors of the vehicle were open with ramps extending to the ground. There was a man at the bottom, ensuring the ramps were safe. Halfway down the ramp, guided by a volunteer orderly was a wheelchair. The wheelchair was occupied by old Mrs Mort!

All three faces were turned in my direction, each one fixed with a frozen look of bewilderment and horror. Old Mrs Mort’s mouth was forming that familiar wobbly ‘O’ that usually precedes phenomenal screaming. I leapt up. The poor woman was only just returning from hospital following our previous encounter.

“No! Wait! …. I’m not doing anything abnormal… I merely want to look up these dollies skirts!” I cried, waving them frantically in her direction.

Old Mrs Mort somehow shoved her wheelchair operator out of the way. Gripping the wheels of the chair tightly, she reversed back up the ramp into the vehicle and slammed the doors. I must say she moved surprisingly quickly for someone resembling Davros in a hairnet.

She refused to come out and eventually the Dial-A-Ride staff had no alternative but to return her to hospital. My wife informed me later that she appears to have suffered some kind of a relapse, so I doubt it’s actually anything to do with me at all. It may be some kind of agoraphobia I suppose. 


  1. I do so look forward to these adventures. You should know that you now have a Canadian home-educating following, Dark Lord Badman. We think you're super.

  2. Absolutely fabulous, rolling around on the floor trying not to wet myself :-))

    Keep on writing, I love coming back to read and bring a huge grin to my face.