Wednesday, 31 January 2007

It's Wednesday

I can only refer you to the postings for 11th and 17th January.

The swimming pool hasn't helped by putting up a sign as I go towards the pool. It reads, 'Fancy a swim in someone else's bathwater?'

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Old clothes

I need to kill myself first before I cut my heart out. Because I've done something today that I've put off for weeks, months, and possibly years. Seven years to be precise. I've cleared out my wardrobe.

Now this sounds like a trivial thing. But it's not. First, there's the matter of the location of the wardrobe. That alone is painful. It's in the downstairs bedroom, once a cellar, which is destined to be the childrens new playroom when we move all bedrooms upstairs. There's a strange and beautiful corridor leading outside the bedroom, turning out from the main structure of the house, lit by skylights, starry at night, sunny in the day, all sunk into the ground.

And how did we bring out the beauty of this architectural wonder? We put a wardrobe in it. Not any old off-the-shelf wardrobe at that, but a purpose-built DIY wardrobe to fit the space exactly. Now, even going to the wardrobe is a wounding reminder of a misconceived project. I'm not proud.

The next horrible moment is entering the wardrobe itself. There are three rails deep, like Narnia. Three rails of pre-children living. In there I'll find a cocoa brown sueded dress touring Bologna, sandy peach shorts fooling around a beach in Thailand, a white cotton dress, sitting in the two-seater, buzzing to Scotland. I'll discover a crisply-cut cream jacket, brightly springing out of a taxi in London, and a long and slender dress, chatting over champagne. There'll be summer tops, winter coats, and a clear turquoise dress, getting married. From these silky folds, fuzzy suedes and deep, soft woollens, I'll handle tickets, receipts, jottings, and telephone numbers from travels and journeys Brazil to China; I'll smell vague perfumes from familiar shorelines, strange rooms, places of wonder.

None of these clothes I've worn or even looked at in the last seven years. Most will be two or three sizes too small, and rely on a shape to fill them that I won't recognise. The dresses will have waistlines, the hemlines will rely on slender knees. These shapely-cut clothes will demand curving necks and ankles.

But the clothes that are sorting the wardrobe are a baggy acrylic jumper with holes in the armpit, and a tee-shirt with a red paint stain. The jeans, torn on the leg, were held on the spike that was left when the oven door fell off. The top button won't be fastened. They're servicable for muddy playgrounds, bleeding knees, vomit, baking biscuits, clay-pot making, painting dinosaurs.

When I get past the door to the wardrobe itself there are the horrible practicalities of the gutting process. Five hours of it. The agonising, hand-wringing, decision-making. The 'Could I ever possibly squeeze into it again?' moment, followed by 'Would I want to?'

I thought this was supposed to be cleansing. Not likely. Because of course these are not dresses, or skirts, coats, tops and jackets, they're aspirations and expectations, dreams and plans, desires and satisfactions, restrictions and freedoms, and now they're all bundled up in three lots of bags. The first travelling to the local tip, via an offer on freecycle. The second in the cupboard, destined to hang around ebay, if I ever get to it. And the third the lingering dreams I cannot bear to part with. These will all be pointlessly stored, probably under the eaves.

What the heck. In the new bedroom upstairs there's a basket waiting of acrylic jumpers with holes in, jeans where the top button never does up, clothes that are ripped, soiled, or torn. These clothes won't have many expectations, desires or freedoms. And if they do, they'll be found in vomit, poo, blood, flour, clay, and poster paint.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Bed success

It's a day of achievement. The bunk beds are in place. They arrived four hours late thanks to the old lady behind the sales desk in the Charity Shop writing the wrong town on the delivery label and sending the van drivers up the M1. I hope I get to do things like that when I'm aged 82.

The construction of these single beds into stacking beds was astonishingly easy. It took about two hours, an alan key, a screwdriver, a roll of sticky tape, some chalk, a torch, and Shark, hopping and jumping about, asking at high volume if she could help. I'd expected much worse. There's usually a lot of gnashing of teeth, tearing at clothing, groaning and sighing and disappearing down B&Q for four hours before declaring the entire project hopeless. At that point I'd have expected to leave bed bits scattered on the landing for six months until someone complained.

But for the moment, we're all very pleased with the result. The new inhabitants of Middle Flat 1 didn't complain, even though we barricaded them in for two hours while we crashed about with wooden planks outside their door. Mr Pod in Middle Flat 2 didn't complain, even though we woke him up. Squirrel says she's happy with the bottom bunk if I put up some proper princess curtains. Shark's happy so long as she can dominate the top bunk. And Tiger can't wait to install herself in the bedroom next door well away from her two sisters. I think even Dig might be satisfied with the result, just for the moment. I'm ignoring his declaration that they're the wrong bunk beds that only take metric mattresses and not standard mattresses. That's just Dig, enjoying himself. And I'm resourceful.

But I have my misgivings, secretly. About more than mattresses. At the moment Squirrel sleeps in a room with a high wooden ceiling, like a chapel roof, sparkling with fairy lights. When she moves to that bottom bunk in the top flat she'll get a view of the underside of Shark's mattress. So I have my thinking cap on for her, if only to delay the moment when we have to undo all our successful work, and put those bunk beds back to singles.

Sunday, 28 January 2007


I've been shopping with the triplets. Not all at the same time, of course. That would be suicide. If I take them singly, I can almost guarantee there'll be no fighting and brawling or rolling around in the gutters. And I get some quality, one-to-one time, and can actually have a conversation with each of them. I've planned this for when Dig's back. He's hanging around on the sofa now looking ill and miserable, so it seems like a good day to leave him in charge of two children, and not three.

First it's with Shark to Tesco, to get some emergency lunch. I hate Tesco. I would call them a bunch of scoundrels, villains, unethical charlatons and rogues if I could get away with it. But I go shopping there. Mostly because they're open 24 hours so I don't have to go shopping with children. Going shopping with children is even worse than shopping at Tesco.

With Shark in charge, it's painful. She has to push the trolley. She has no sense of direction so I apologise all the way round the fruit and veg. After a while she's not strong enough to push either, so lolls against it, not giving up, with a scowl on her face, blocking the aisles and progressing at a speed of one centimeter every ten minutes. After five minutes I abandon her and run round the shop gathering ingredients. Since it doesn't seem much like one-to-one quality time I give in to a demand for mango.

The next quality-time trip is with Squirrel, to John Lewis furnishing department. I'm persuading her to move into the bedroom with Shark, but she says she's not going unless she gets a princess room. I say she can have a gold and white princess room and not a pink princess room because the sight of all that pink is going to make me retch and I have to live there too. So we go to look at gold and white things.

Squirrel is destined to be a Woman of Quality. She immediately settles on a lead crystal chandelier with gold metalwork. A snip at £1000. Then she eyes up a pure white rug at £750. She wants a decorative curtain around her bed, so I show her some net curtains at £2.25 a metre and suggest she could paint them with her glitter glue. She says that's not a good idea and heads off to the bridal fabric with hand-sewn spangly beads and sequins in floral pattern at £28 a metre. I say to her that's very good for a fact-finding, ideas-generating mission and we come home with a metre of sparkly gold fabric from the reduced bin for £4. Now if there's a little lad out there destined for Squirrel, don't say you weren't warned.

Finally, it's Tiger's turn. Off we go to Ikea. By this time I'm getting a bit tired of quality time and feel a bit truculent. Tiger spends most of her time complaining that we can't just walk into a shop and see exactly what we want the moment we want to. I don't know where she gets that attitude from. She tells me to stop complaining about things that don't matter, like hurty feet, and I tell her to stop being an irritating six-year old who does nothing but complain. So I can't say the trip to Ikea was a good quality-time experience either.

Next time, Dig can have the quality time. I know where they'd go. Shark would get to the bottle shop, Squirrel to the electronics shop, and Tiger to the DIY shop to look at cisterns again. At least that would balance out the cooking and interior design. And I'd get to lie on the sofa, reading the newspaper, with my feet up.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Competition time

The children have entered a story competition, for World Book day. They've all dutifully sat down and typed up their stories and we've printed them out and filled in the application forms, all nice and neat and appealing.

Shark's story is quite good. At least it has a plot and a clear narrative voice. Squirrel's story just rambles on and on and on without direction. I could say she's experimenting with a stream of conciousness style in homage to James Joyce. But she's not. She's just in her own world where birds have parties, cats eat cake and everyone's followed by a fairy, but they just don't know it.

Tiger has high hopes for hers. I over-egged the praise pudding to boost her confidence, and unfortunately we seem to gone past the point of no return. She's got herself down as a winner and will be asking about the mail for days to come. I may have to be a desperate parent and mug up a letter that bursts out with 'Congratulations! You're the winner!' I could do a false letterhead and signature, no problem, and enclose a book token and post it all properly. It would be a disaster. I'll have to remember the deceit for the rest of my life and never blab some Christmas time when she's aged 17, got her boyfriend round, and I've been on the cooking sherry. I could mug up a 'Thank you, you're not a winner' letter. It would be no good. I'd still blab.

Tiger feels the pressure, of course. Both sisters have won competitions. Shark's still delighted over the Christmas card she designed which got printed by the national charity. I knew it should be a winner the minute she did it. I snatched it out of her hand just as the black paint was coming down on it, and I hand delivered it with ten minutes to go on competition date. As I leapt out of the car I banged my head on a road sign and had the blood dripping down my forehead to show for this parental dedication. And when the receptionist saw the masterpiece, she snatched it too. With a big sigh, she exclaimed, 'Is that a competition entry? Oh, good!' So in any event I guessed we'd saved the in-house designer from the brief to draw a Christmas pixie in the style of a six-year old.

In fact Tiger's the only one so far not to have won a competition. I couldn't believe it when Squirrel won one. And for a short story at that. She won a family trip to a theme park thanks to a piece of rambling nonsense she poured out last year. They must have thought she really had read Ulysses. We never took up the prize because it was miles away and would have cost us a fortune to go. Squirrel was thrilled with the letter and tee-shirt, anyhow. And if we ever do go, I'll have to arrange payment out of sight, and proclaim it Squirrel's treat.

The first competition we all entered as a family, we won. And that seems to have laid down some sort of marker in Tiger's mind. We won Best Costumed Family the first year of our local town carnival. I wore a crown, a pair of battered jeans and a tatty jumper. Dig wore a green curtain and a circlet of holly as some sort of green man. Squirrel went as a flower with a lovely flowery hat. Tiger wore a cardboard box that we told the judge was a lorry, and Shark disguised herself as a zebra fish by wrapping black and white crepe paper around herself. Forty pounds to spend at the local toy shop was quite a coup. But the next year, things got tough. Another family entered. We spent the whole carnival walk looking at them, and them looking at us. I think their win was political, actually.

Will Tiger do it? I doubt it. But if by some bizarre quirk of fate, or a hallucinogenic drug clouding judgment at just the right moment, and either Squirrel, Tiger, Shark, or Grit wins, of course I'll let you know.

Friday, 26 January 2007

Meningitus, not.

Maybe its a sixth sense which makes me cancel our appearance at the art and craft session today. When I get out of bed I feel as wretched as yesterday, and decide that hanging around in pyjamas drinking coffee is an effective cure. By mid-morning I'm feeling much better. And then find Squirrel curled up on the sofa with a blanket over her head.

'I feel sick' she explains. I equip her with a hot water bottle and cuddles, and back she slides under her blanket.

After midday she's still drowsy and curled up like a snail. I ask again how she feels.
'I don't like the light' she says. 'It hurts my eyes'.
'Have you got any other symptoms?' I ask.
'My neck hurts' comes a tiny answer from under the blanket.

At this point my meningitus drill kicks in and I whip up her tee-shirt to examine her for rashes. She has a fine reddening patch across her tummy, which might be the result of the hot water bottle. Or it might not. I check her temperature, which is normal at 37.C. No matter. Panic is a much better guide than any ear thermometer with an accuracy reading to within a tenth of a centigrade.

Within the minute I'm on the phone to the local heath centre. The receptionist answers, then disappears to come back and say Mr Doc will see her now, but make it snappy because he's the on duty doctor and off duty at 1.00. It's seven minutes to, and a four minute drive.

Perhaps it's the shock of being whisked off the sofa and bundled into the car in under fifteen seconds that does it. As we screech round the corner on two wheels, Squirrel calls out 'My neck feels a bit better now.' This is terrible. I tell her not to say that to Mr Doc. 'My eyes don't hurt either,' offers Squirrel. 'Say nothing,' I command. This is worse. Now I am encouraging my child to fake the symptoms of bacterial meningitus.

Squirrel is gratifyingly droopy in the surgery, but otherwise she's alert and has no problem staring at bright lights or turning her neck 180 degrees. I offer weak explanations about her snail behaviours with the blanket and I do a lot of offering of hideous symptoms so that I don't look like a fussy, over-anxious parent who wants the NHS to jump every time I snap my fingers. Which I probably am, but hey, it was me that diagnosed the choleostasis, and since then I've always been a bit touchy.

An hour later and Squirrel's lying on the sofa, singing rude songs about Tiger.

All in all, it's been a pretty ordinary week. Except for Tiger, everyone's been ill. I'm broke. I've cooked revolting red kidney bean burgers which went straight in the bin. I tried to cancel the theatre workshop I'd booked us in for, only to discover I'd never booked in the first place. It was cancelled anyway. The bloke leading it was ill. We've mucked about with the swimming lessons and got the timings all wrong. Dig's left home till Sunday and I've made myself a Charlie down at the local health centre.

Now can we count the weekend the fresh start to another week?

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Depressing day

Now I'm starting to feel not well, so today's post is short. Dig has pushed off to some other country, meanwhile organising visas to remote parts of the world for his not-holidays. The children are back to rude health and are on form with the rolling around the floor slapping each other and pulling hair. The house is a complete mess. The fridge is depressing me. I've dropped a packet of washing powder all over the kitchen floor. There is a snowman's head in the freezer. The grass, apparently, is its hair. We are not achieving anything. It is all despair.

Not surprisingly, I'm feeling sorry for myself. This is not a good day to continue clearing out the wardrobe from downstairs as part of our move upstairs. It involves bagging up the size 8 clothes that I'll never get in again unless I'm ill. Since I am ill, I might just try. That would be even more depressing since I seem to be about size 14. You see, I can't escape today's gloom. I may as well just accept it. No matter how happy the beginning, the miserable ending stays forever.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Two beds

I've bought a bed. Two beds, to be precise. One on top of the other. It's one of those bunk beds that you can convert into single beds when you realise that stacking the children one on top of the other just isn't going to work.

I can see it all now. First Shark, who's destined for the top bunk, will torture Squirrel, who's underneath. From her height advantage, Shark will immediately discover the practical reasons why the Normans built motte and bailey castles. It won't be arrows but plastic lego bricks that will be weapons of choice from her defensive position. Squirrel, meanwhile, will attempt some undermining with a sharp stick before removing Shark's ladder. A bunk bed that we can separate into two beds seems a jolly good choice.

I had to pay for the beds, which has bruised my bank balance again. I've been cruising around the Freecycle list for ages to see if we can get a bunk bed at a cost of zero, since I am now utterly broke in what is the most expensive month of the year. Bunk beds do not come up that often on the Freecycle list. And when they do, there's always a Roger or a Stephanie who's got in before me and is just coming round to measure. I've written little pleading notes full of pathos and nothing's come of it all.

Then I tried the tip. Now our tip is lovely. It's not any old rancid pile of rubbish in a field. Not at all. There's a warehouse filled with lots of lovely things left by people who don't know about Freecycle. Last week I saw a wonderful 1950s vaulting horse in there, all polished wood and leather. I briefly considered it. The woman with the septic hand who runs the tip shop only wanted a tenner for it. But I thought about the space and that the children use the sofa anyway. With a sad glance of regret and missed opportunity I left it. But there were no bunk beds, which is what we need. More than a 1950s vaulting horse, actually.

So it had to be the Charity Shop Furniture Warehouse. And there was the bunk bed. The only bunk bed, so there wasn't a great deal of choice in the matter. But now it's our bunk bed, or two beds. We await delivery, and we'll continue the arguments about who's going to get in it.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007


Squirrel started it. We arrive at the art and craft session with the Teech who tells everyone what to do and no messing. Just as Squirrel's completed carving some lines over her polystyrene block, she vomits on it. The art Teech doesn't notice. Neither do I, actually. It's my day for tea and coffee and biscuits. So I'm trudging down the road looking for a shop that might sell me a carton of milk.

I'm not sure how long Squirrel stands there, pale faced and weak-legged, her hands covering her vomit-art, before Shark sees something's up and comes to the kitchens to find me. I've been thrashing around with teabags and mugs and have the only day when the big kettle thing doesn't work. 'It's never stopped working before' says Paula, who's come out of the office to look at it. I look at it as well. I am of the Eeyore philospohy of life. It's my day to do tea and coffee and biscuits. Expect the worst.

'Mummy, Squirrel wants you,' says Shark in a weeny voice that doesn't have much urgency about it. Well, I'm glad to escape looking at the kettle thing that doesn't work so leg it while I have the chance. Then there's a lot of ooh ooh ooh while I flap about Squirrel, ushering her into the ladies and clearing up vomit. Teech helps quite a bit at that point, so momentarily she doesn't sound like Hitler. She will again later.

By the time we get home, Squirrel has vomited some more in the car, into a recycling bag I've suspended from the seats. This was a good plan until I discovered that it's got holes to stop babies putting it over their heads and suffocating themselves.

Then Shark joins her sister. At first I think it's some strange twinny-thing with sympathetic brain waves and 'I know what you're thinking and we don't have to talk, unless of course it's in our strange twinny language'. That sort of thing. But they've never shown that much sympathy before, so perhaps it really is just lots of vomit.

And there is lots of it. All afternoon and all evening. From both of them. We have three sick buckets on the go and I use a full bottle of disinfectant. Tiger is utterly bored, not having any sisters to torture, so there's only one answer. The TV. We watch the Blue Planet, Matilda, Land Before Time, Earth Story. In fact we notch up our entire month's average viewing in one go.

Now the night to get through. The night light's stopped working, and so has the monitor. Dig's taken to his bed with a headache, and I'm feeling sick. Now, in Eeyore's philosophy, 'Visualise a thunderstorm. It's just what would happen.'

Monday, 22 January 2007

A home educating day

I am smug. The 'Where is Persia?' project is going well. Everyone has now analysed all the map books, found Iran, Tehran, found the mountain ranges and the coastline. We've located the Arabian Gulf or the Persian Gulf, depending on your point of view. Tiger has sat with Dig and flown over most of Iran on Google Earth.

We've also discussed Persia's history and raised ideas about why empires expand and collapse. Shark wants to know which is the most powerful nation on earth. 'For about another week, the USA' says Dig. 'Then India and China'. So we can tick politics too.

Art, we've done art. Lots of it. We've done miniature paintings and fallen in love with Shrinkles paper which shrinks to minute size if you put it in the oven. We've made lanterns from tin cans with holes battered in them. The kids stuck jewels and glitter glue everywhere and the cans are now hanging from the kitchen ceiling, waiting for tea lights.

Wall hangings are next, inspired by William Morris designs, so sewing is on the agenda, and then cooking. I shall plead with the the Hat to come and teach us about Persian New Year and tell us some words in Farsi; we can all dress up Sheherazade style.

Throughout the day and the last week we've ticked lots of boxes in fact. Iranian chanting music. The flag. Islam. Women in Iran. Wolves in the mountains. Fishing. Sanctions. Islamic law. Steel-making.

So it's all going well. Something must be brewing. Nothing's usually this straightforward.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Back home

No-one missed me. Thanks to the envelopes the girls all agreed it was a jolly good thing I'd gone for the night and they all suggested I should go more often.

Dig put in a lot of effort. Shark was delighted to announce that daddy did the washing up at 8.30am. This was quite an achievement. My guess is that he was terrified I might have had such a fabulous child-free time I'd come back and see all the plates piled up under the kitchen table and I'd go bonkers, smash the lot up and leave. He used to put all the dirty plates, pans and cups into a washing up bowl and then stash the washing up bowl under the kitchen table, where I'd put my feet in it when I sat down. I took that washing up bowl into the yard, turned it upside down and jumped on it. That stopped him.

He did cooking too while I was gone. His two recipes are pasta, and baked potatoes, if he remembers to put the oven on. Both come with the same tomato sauce. He used to be able to cook. Strange, that. When we were courting, probably back in the 14th century, I would love to come round and be fed exotic foods from the The Vegan Cookbook. He had quite a repertoire, from spicy bulgar wheat and red pepper sauce to cashew nuts and saffron. Now it's all 'Do you want tomato sauce with that pasta?' and that's it.

There's obviously something gone on while I've been away. The kitchen table seems to have a large charcoal patch on it, like there might have been a small domestic fire. No-one says anything, so I don't either. I just scrub the table a lot and make gentle, non-threatening enquiries. The children say they've been doing science experiments and daddy had to use a lot of tealights to get the water to boil. It seems to have gone well for them. They all rattle off that water boils at 100 degrees celcius. They add that pasta didn't cook in the frozen water, and I just say, OK, because I've had a lovely time, and I don't want to spoil it by knowing too much.

I did have a lovely time. I'm sure I didn't miss them at all. I must have bored Zia and Luna to bits talking about Shark and Squirrel and Tiger. But they were gracious enough not to be tell me to shut up, or that they'd heard that story before, or wasn't it time for bed now, when it was only half past eight.

Thank you Zia and Luna. It was a lovely time. And no one missed me much at all.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

To the big city

I'm going to London. I'm terrified. I'm a girl from the shires. It's a big city. There's no-one to hold my hand. I usually hold hands, with six year olds, and am in control. Of things like odd wellington boots, pink coats, artwork from the craft sessions, tins of tomatoes from Tesco, Squirrel's knickers for the laundry, the kitchen brush. And when I'm working in the office I'm hiding. I don't have to speak to the argumentative authors whose books I set. I just sit here and grumble at the screen, and slam the keyboard hard. I've worn off the letters e r t u i o a h n. In fact I have sticky labels cut out and stuck over them now with the letters written on in felt tip.

And I'm going without children. They are going to be looked after by Dig. He's never had sole control of them through teatime, bedtime, breakfast. Ever. Because I've never been away from them. From Shark, once, when she was in hospital. We were staying with Uncle Diesel who's a bachelor boy, so children are like aliens to him. Especially children with nappies and needs. He gets up at 4am too, driving through the night in a lorry, so he couldn't look after Squirrel and Tiger. Anyway, his idea of how you get children to sleep is to say 'If you go to sleep I'll give you a KitKat.'

In preparation for my Big Trip, I've done the laundry, two loads, and I've swept the floor. I'm making vegetable stew before I go, so it can be eaten for lunch and reheated later. I've loaded, unloaded and loaded the dishwasher. Dig does not do dishwashers. He can hardwire a computer and install a central heating system but he cannot put plates in a dishwasher and then press the button that reads, in bright scarlet letters, 'ON'.

I'm going to be away until tomorrow. All night. I am worried about Shark's goodnight kiss. So I have enclosed a little cuddly dolphin in an envelope for Dig to give her at bedtime. I know this will send cries of 'it's not fair' all round, so I've made envelopes for the other two as well. Squirrel has a lion and Tiger has a woodpecker. I also know that giving them these things before bedtime is the equivalent of saying, 'If you go to sleep I'll give you a KitKat.'

Now my bag is packed and I'm ready to go. Can they survive the night?

Friday, 19 January 2007

A nearly no-argument day

The riot police were back in Smalltown when we got home. Two riot vans, a dozen police cars, and a road closed, according to Dig, thanks to a dispute outside a local Place of Religious Worship. Punch-ups are fairly common in Smalltown: I cross the road rather than walk past The Queen's Head. I always expect some bloke to come flying out the doors, saloon style, to slide to a splattered halt outside the Co-op.

We've had quite a lovely day too. Tiger vomited last night and had a lie-in this morning. Shark and Squirrel were quite concerned. They ran about fectching blankies and chivvying us over hot water bottles. Out came the treasured cuddly toys to snuggle down with Tiger until she got better. No-one battered her with Puffin or ran off with Brown Horse. Their goodwill continued this morning. Everyone was most concerned that Tiger got her choice of audio in the car while she sat there with a sick bucket on her lap, just in case.

I don't think we live in a particularly crime-ridden area. The type of crime we get here is what seems to be called low-level. One New Year we came back to our kitchen windows smashed in, which was cold. My tax disc got nicked; the local dodger made off with my green wheelie bin before Christmas; Pastry got her belongings stolen from the van; the kids throws eggs, snowballs, smash car wing mirrors and shout about boyfriends snogging slappers in the street. The most serious event for us was the kidnapper who smashed up our car. That was a difficult summer.

The fact that there's a surveillance camera right outside the house seems to have no impact whatsoever, apart from give someone something to watch of a Friday night.

When we got to the girly party today we've mostly missed it, thanks to the ongoing discussion in the car about Tiger's vomit and the audio choice. But today it doesn't matter; Em has invited us to lunch so the girls get to play with Clo. This is bliss. Someone else gets to worry about lunch; the girls are occupied, and there's only one fight between Squirrel and Tiger in the playground. Clearly the vomit attack has worn off, and so has the sympathy. There are claws involved, hair pulling, coat snatching and an ear wound. I ask Clo if she would like sisters. 'They can be nice', I offer, as the punches are packing and the howls are rising. 'No' says Clo.

The punches have been swinging down the road too, I hear from Dig: one bloke hospitalised with stomach wounds and a heavy police presence for the next few days, since it's apparently between two families engaged in revenge attacks. I don't advocate direct violence now, I think, as I empty my bag from the day. I turn out the piece of sharpened stick Tiger put in the bag. She's put in a piece of flint too, and long strands of thin bark, like string. She's been trying to tie the flint to the wood to make a spear. Me, I avoid direct confrontation. And if I had a weapon of choice, it would be a used nappy, discreetly placed under the windscreen wiper.

Now if you come calling in Smalltown, expect to divert past the closed roads, watch out for the police, cross the road from the Queen's Head, and don't take my parking space.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Dig's diary

Dig's been doing his 2007 diary. This is very irritating and I probably hate him for it. First stop Germany, then Uzbekistan, probably Argentina, a near-definite to Brazil, a pop over to Australia and a call-in to Malaysia. That's just for starters. No doubt he'll squeeze in a few European venues as well. Me, I'm off to the front room. Two years ago I hit the big time with a caravan in Norfolk. And last February we froze in a caravan in Sussex, thanks to Dig absconding to Thailand for a week.

I'm not happy about all this overseas travel while I suffer local swimming lessons, so this entry could include a small amount of bitter, deep-seated, vitriol.

I suppose I should put a word in his defence. 'I get tired of travelling' he says. There, that's five words.

He does get very stressed, this much is true. But sometimes it's his own doing: he routinely leaves twenty-five minutes in which to pack and get to the airport. No wonder his blood pressure goes off the scale.

And then, when all the stress and chaos and noise of his departure's died down, I'm here with the triplets, single-mothering. That's not fun. He was in the Lebanon when Shark got admitted to hospital. He heard about the bump being triplets when he was in the middle of Eastern Europe. And when the tiddlers were six months old he pushed off to Sri Lanka for two weeks and said it wasn't a holiday. I have my suspicions. Sometimes he comes back with strange items of clothing and photographs of ancient monuments.

Although the difference in our lives is sometimes of great irritation, I suppose I am glad that Dig's journeys are remarkably trouble-free. Probably because he does posh class and people are paid to be nice. In fact, apart from the routine last-minute 90mph drive to the local airport because he's got his dates and times mixed up, he's managed to stay out of trouble. Not including the petition in the Middle-east, that is. But he's never yet been imprisoned abroad, arrested at the airport or detained in the UK. I don't think Russia refusing him entry counts. We just had to come home again.

Now if he was stopped from getting on the airplane in the UK, I would glady drive and pick him up, so he could stay here, and do his fair share of triplet-minding. And I'm thinking. I wonder if I could slip something in his luggage?

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

It is Wednesday

9.15 am. It is swimming. I think I am going to have a breakdown.

4.00pm. Everything was as predicted. I am developing a stammer.

6pm. If you are concerned, I can only refer you to the diary entry for the 11th January.

11.00pm. I am going to bed to weep.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

A momentous day

What an achievement. We have made and posted birthday cards in the same day.

Let me explain the ground rules about any activity in a household of triplets. The first rule is there must be something for everyone to do. The second rule is that all the tasks must be of equal importance.

This isn't easy. Washing broccoli. This has to be split into a multi-part activity: several before chopping the heads off, and some more after. Other people sometimes do not appreciate this complexity. Two years ago me and the kids went to Dorset to live in a tent with Oo and son, and the triplets were keen to help. There clearly wasn't much for them to do in the five hours it took Oo to put up the tent, with me hovering about offering to hit things with a mallet. There wasn't much to do about the beds either, since two blow-up mattresses hadn't occupied anyone that long. The sleeping bags had already been put in their holders and pulled out again, so we'd exhausted that. It had to be cooking the food. And there was broccoli.

Oo said she would go and wash the broccoli. 'Stop!' I cried. 'Let Squirrel hold the broccoli on the way to the tap. Let Shark turn on the tap. Then Squirrel passes the broccoli to Tiger, who will hold the broccoli under the running water. Then Tiger will pass the broccoli to Shark who can also wash the broccoli. Then Shark passes the broccoli to Squirrel who can wash the broccoli too. Then Tiger can turn the tap off. Let Shark carry the broccoli back. But she must pass it to Tiger to place on the table, where it's going to be chopped. Now, let me tell you about how to chop off the heads...' I could see Oo's eyes had glazed over. But life with triplets is like that.

So making and posting birthday cards in the same day is a wonderful achievement. Think of the paper that has to be fetched, the felt-tips you might pick up and take for granted, the glue that everyone wants to pour, the spatulas to carry, the glittery sticky-on things you might keep in a drawer. They all have to be brought out, and everyone wants to do it. Don't forget the envelopes, the stamps, and the journeys to and from the post box.

The journeys have to be planned, meticulously, and in advance of doing anything. So everything takes three times the hours. For example, we have to walk through doors, and that's usually not fair, because Squirrel was first last time. Mostly because she's always leaving this family, but anyway, it must be fair. We debate who will open the door on the way out, who will be first to walk through the door, who will close the door, who gets to choose the way to the post office, and who gets to walk first down the pavement and hold a hand to cross the road.

It may seem laborious, and you're probably thinking 'Just go to the Post Office!' but think how you would cope if you said that to three little girls, all of whom want to be first. There'd be a shocked silence. Then the screaming, pushing, running about and crying would start, as everyone tried to be first at everything. Soon enough the weapons would come out. A cuddly puffin might look cute, but you know about it when you get a battering with it. Then you'd think, 'Thank goodness it's the puffin and not the lollypop sticks they've sharpened into spears'. Without the planning and organisation, you're looking at two hours to wind up and calm down, and foolishly you might have shouted the threat of 'Put the Puffin down or You don't go to the Post Office at all!'

Now, making and posting the birthday cards in the same day. What an achievement.

Happy Birthday Luna!

Monday, 15 January 2007

A usual lesson

We have to face it. Some lessons do not work. Not the lessons I'm running: I know they don't work. It's the lessons we attend. They don't work either.

Take Italian. Now we love Italian. The children have visited Italy twice and I've done the whole Michel Thomas thing, which you can take as proof of our commitment. And we simply have to learn some Italian, so we can talk to beautiful Zia and beautiful Luna. But the lessons, they just aren't working for us.

First we have to get out the door on a Monday morning for a half-hour drive. Tiger doesn't want to go. She doesn't read well and teech wipes everything from the board before she's copied it down. That's put her off. Then there's Squirrel who says she wants to go, but hums through most of the lesson. Shark suffers it because an Italian gentleman is on her marriage list. Poor fella. He's probably in a Milan suburb now, aged 6 and a half, playing with his trains. In fifteen years time Shark will get hold of him, whether he likes it or not.

When it's time to put on shoes and coats, it's the usual. I don't know Tiger's locked herself in the bathroom, I think the door is stuck, and slam it open with great force. This sends Tiger headlong to the radiator where she bangs her nose. I say to the now-weeping Tiger that she can stay at home but she must do some writing while we're gone. Squirrel's already out the door in a tee-shirt and socks so I stuff shoes and clothes in a Tesco carrier bag and point her in the direction of the car. As I'm hurtling around the house looking for Dig's keys and my glasses I trap my finger in the door. We're already late, my finger's blistering and Shark, upset about some crime I've inadvertently committed, stubbornly blocks the hallway in front of me. I'm not nice. I give her a poke in the back of the anorak. She dramatically throws herself to the floor, screaming, so I have to stride over her. We're all shouting, as usual, and by the time Shark's in the car we're 15 minutes late, as usual.

When we get to the lesson we're 5 minutes late. I park by the emergency stop method, cram a £2 coin into the parking meter because I've never got a 20 pence, and we all run off down the street. I'm not confessing to Dig that I routinely forget to lock the car doors, or sometimes to close them.

Inside, the toddlers are all over the floor, alternately howling and squealing and shaking the tables while they're crawling about underneath looking for legs to hang onto; someone's scribbled a picture of what looks like a map of a motorway service area on the wall outside which will get the complaint letters flying again, and there's nowhere for us to sit.

When we've finished with our personal style of disruption and the shrieks have died down from the corridor outside, the lesson begins. Squirrel instinctively starts to hum. We've locked ourselves in at the front now, and I'm rather glad Tiger's nursing her nose at home. I whisper 'ascolti!' with an exaggerated shushing sound to Squirrel, partly because I like to show off and partly because I think teech might forgive us if I show I'm on her side. She doesn't hear anyway. I suspect she may be deaf.

When it gets to the singing bit Shark sings 'la la la la' in a very loud voice with no attempt at any Italian at all. When it's the 'time to speak to your neighbour' bit, Squirrel goes bright red and buries her face in my armpit. I'm glad Tiger's not here. She fixes teech with her steely eyes, and growls.

Teech is very nice and understanding throughout all the toddler screaming, the comings and goings to the toilets, the misunderstandings between the English and the Italian, Shark's la la la and Squirrel's humming. She's even nice when one parent breaks down sobbing. I'm going to miss teech. Because sadly we can't go back. We have to study Italian at home for now. The stress, the chaos, the noise, the twenty pounds in parking meter fees, the middle of the day sucked away in a frantic drive there and back. We have to find an easier way. Now does anyone speak Italian near us?

Sunday, 14 January 2007

An improving experience

Today we went for tea with Swan. Swan is a lady. Ladies take English teas in bone china cups. The cups have handles, and the handles point in the right direction. Ladies like Swan eat half a muffin with honey, delicately. There are plates.

I don't know why Swan invited us for tea. We are not ladies. We are noisy and smelly. We have dribble on our chins, snotty bits glued on our noses, yesterday's tomato sauce down our frocks and glitter glue in our hair thanks to an over-enthusiastic illustration of a unicorn flying a bi-plane. We pronounce fish as 'piss' and octopus as 'octopis', so if you get us on the subject of the glories in the underwater world, it sounds like we have an obsession with urine. I've put it down to the speech problems, but recently I'm beginning to wonder: the words 'bum', 'wee-wee' and 'poopy' are now the funniest words ever invented and have to be aired with increasing frequency throughout the day. Including tea time.

But we made fairy cakes before we left, which partly explains why we were 40 minutes late. I hope fashionable ladies in the shires are 40 minutes late. Squirrel enthusiastically covered the cakes with a glacier-sized dollop of icing and half a ton of hundreds and thousands. Somewhere under there, I explained to Swan, who looked at these mountains with puzzlement, there is a fairy cake about the size of a teaspoon and apologies about the glacier.

Tea was very graceful and Swan was a lady from start to finish. She never flinched when the discussion about poopy started and even joined in with an anecdote about the bowel habits of house martins. She remained impassive when Shark bounced the pelican on everyone's head shouting 'Wee-wee! Wee-wee! Wee-wee!'. She never batted an eyelid when Tiger suddenly screamed at the top of her lungs and leapt up to stand on her seat just after the first muffin. Swan kindly offered to put the cat out. The cat hasn't been out since 2003. It's now 182 years old in cat years, blind in one eye and has two teeth. It spends most of its days unconscious in an armchair wrapped in a blanket and stands up when it smells tea. Perhaps Tiger misunderstood the situation and thought it had come back to life. Personally, I didn't have much sympathy. By now she should be used to stranger things than that.

When it was time for us to go, Swan was very polite and never once ran to get our coats or burst into laughter or mouthed 'thank you God' while clapping her hands, but said how nice it was to see us all and how lovely it would be if we could all come again.

When we get home Dig is glued to his computer. He hasn't moved for three hours. The house is in darkness, the fire is not lit and the bag of icing sugar is where we left it. In the time it takes me to switch on lights and get the fire going the children have helped themselves to cereal-sized bowls of icing sugar and are scoffing it by the tablespoon. Shark has it up to her hairline and in her eyebrows and looks suspiciously like she put her face in the bag. Squirrel has poured it down her front. Tiger is eating the spillage from the table with her fingers.

Now we're all back to normal, I think Swan had, for a brief time, a positive and beneficial effect. I liked that gracious life. And I think the children did too. Squirrel told me on the journey home that she knew some people who liked cats might not like to hear that daddy hides behind bushes with a water pistol or that mummy runs into the garden with a jug of water shouting 'get out of my garden you vermin'. She says that she didn't tell Swan these things in case it hurt Swan's feelings. I'm going to think this shows great social responsibility and great sensitivity for the concerns of others. Not for me or Dig, perhaps. But it's a start.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

An emotional day

Today I am sad and dulled and failed.

So today I'll find the successes.

I've moved a wardrobe and a bookcase as part of our ongoing project to sleep upstairs and shout downstairs. I managed not to smash the mirror or get wedged in between the bookcase and the door, and I haven't locked myself in the toilet again because the door handle's dropped off. I've not melted my shoes on the oven and I've not electrocuted myself. I managed to get the marble out from under the wardrobe. I did order the history books from the Book People now they're cheap. I have subscribed to the Felicity Wishes Fairy Club. This is, of course, not for me but for the ladies. I got Tiger to her violin lesson. I cleared the landing of bags, nearly, and rummaged about again in the eaves to create storage space. That was very brave because it is dark and there are spiders. I have not been pulled over by the police and no walls or ceilings have fallen in today. The boiler has not broken down. My hair has not caught fire and my shoes have not been stolen.

So I can count today as a success.

I won't ever forget the poor bloke near us who went into the woods and hanged himself because the oven wouldn't work. The oven works today, except for the door, and I won't go near the woods at night time thanks to the doggers.

A success, indeed.

Friday, 12 January 2007

We are late

We have been early three times in our life with the triplets. The first was the birth, by about two months. The second was the home ed visit to the quarry, when we arrived 10 minutes early thanks to Jee scaring me witless about the quarry manager. The third was a home ed visit to an Egyptian workshop, when we turned up the day before. But mostly, we are late. In fact, we are very late, for mostly everything.

This is how it happens. This morning we are booked to a craft and social session between 10 and 12. It takes just under an hour to drive there, so we should start off at 9, and we'll be early. Simple. It's 11.20 when we get there.

The reason why we're late starts at 5.30 am. I wake with a blinding headache and take two aspirin. This is an early mistake; the aspirin knock me out, so the next thing I know of is Squirrel standing over me demanding to know why it's 9am and why I'm not waking everyone at 8am like I threatened. I think this is excellent progress for a child who's having difficulty reading a clock, and as I stumble out of bed and crash to the floor I tell her so.

The next reason why we are late is when I'm standing in the shower. Shark comes to ask me if we can take a craft activity. Through the foam I tell her this is a wonderful idea and I wish I'd thought of it and suggest paper and a pair of scissors. This is a second mistake. Now everyone wants to take a craft activity. By the time I get downstairs, Squirrel is cutting out pictures of flags; Shark is squeezing A4 paper and scissors into a triangular-shaped toy box and Tiger is asking me to go out into the garden to look for a fir tree that has pine cones. Dig is reading the newspaper. Apparently he can't possibly go into the garden because he has no trousers on. It's 9.35. I've had no breakfast.

I tell Squirrel to take the flags with her and cut them out there. I tell Shark that I will find her a folder to take the paper in so it doesn't crease and I tell Tiger we don't have a fir tree in the garden that grows pine cones. We have holly, hawthorn, and damson. No firs. No pines. Dig is eating breakfast and asks if I saw the article about the talking parrot.

Tiger is determined. At least she's wearing shoes, although on the wrong feet. So I unlock the garden door for her. She wants me to come because there might be monsters. I tell Tiger we don't keep monsters in the garden, no firs, no pines either. I tell her from under the bed, which is where I'm looking for the folder that doesn't squash the A4 paper. Then I shout to Squirrel to take the flags with her and wait in the hall. Dig is enjoying his breakfast toast over the newspaper. It's 9.45.

Tiger comes back in, holding a fir cone that we must have brought back from a nature walk last year because it looks like it's been in a waterlogged puddle all winter. I tell her not to bother taking a craft activity. I say I've got paper and shout stop trying to cram everything into the toy box and get a coat instead. I say take the ruddy flags into the hall and wait. I've lost my car keys. Actually, I lost them last Monday, so I take Dig's. It's 9.55.

Shark is ready to get in the car. She's wearing her coat on back to front so her hood's over her face. She thinks this is very funny because she can't see where she's going. I propel her to the car shouting to Tiger to put her shoes on the right way round and to Squirrel to take the flags into the hall or I will destroy them. Dig has gone back to his computer. He's still not got any trousers on, but that's the benefit of working from home he says. It's 10am.

Shark is in the car trying to fasten her safety belt with her hood over her face. Tiger is sitting on the floor asking for glue. I ask Squirrel where the flags are and she says under the hall table. By the time I get a bag for Squirrel to put her flags into, say no no no no no no no about the glue, and get everyone to the car it's 10.10. I can't get the car out the parking space. I have to bump the car behind. We set off at 10.15 and the panic is rising.

The first bit is the motorway. This is easy at 90 mph. Then we turn off to go across the hills to our destination. Oh dear. The petrol light is on. With horror I recall Dig last night over his glass of wine saying that the car has no petrol. I consider the 15 miles we just drove, probably with the light on and in such a panic that I didn't see it, and then the 35 miles we have to do through the middle of nowhere. We turn back to the nearest petrol station. Add 15 minutes.

When we set off again I can't get the CD player to work with one hand and the kids are complaining that Roald Dahl's not there. Squirrel has dropped her favourite flag and is upset that I cannot stop the car and find it. I am desperate for a wee. Tiger is in tears. Shark says she's hungry.

When we get there, we have 40 minutes left of the 2-hour craft session. Jol invites us to lunch and we all readily agree, because the kids can play with Am, who gets them to dress up and hide in the toilet and shout 'bum' which everyone thinks is a wonderful thing. So we're six hours late getting home. And I forget to phone to tell Dig to say we won't be home till dark. But that's OK. I bet he's only just got his trousers on anyway.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Organised misery

I've organised swimming lessons. I must be mad. I hate swimming lessons. The children love them. They were very sad when we suspended them to go to Aus. I opened a bottle of champagne.

First it will be that I can't find the swimming costumes. When I find them, I'll remember that Shark needs a new one because hers is too small, or Squirrel's seam has come apart, or Tiger's managed to get some horrible-looking stain on hers so she looks like a chemical hazard in need of bleach.

When we leave, everyone will be arguing because I haven't got the goggles. I say goggles are their responsibility. They say I always have them. I say I only always have them because children are always losing them. Of course I have to take the goggles away. Anyway, it's guaranteed I haven't got the goggles, and neither have the children.

Then it's the towels. The only one I can find will be frayed at the edge, or have a strange scissor-made hole somewhere that I bet fits a unicorn's head, or it'll be an over-washed grey towel with paint on that I promised myself I would cut up as cleaning cloths, and then immediately put back on the towel shelf.

When we get to the baths it's the hair. All the children have very long hair because they claim it hurts when it's cut. This is impossible and I tell them so. Of course I won't sound convincing because I never go to the hairdressers either. Not again. Not after the fire incident. So I have to threaten swimming caps, which is even worse than having hair put up in a ponytail. Then they'll let me wrap up hair in ponytails, grumbling. By this time we will be a guaranteed ten minutes late because I won't have found a car parking space and we'll have parked miles away. We of course won't be able to leave the house ten minutes earlier because I'll be looking for the swimming costumes.

Then it will be the 20 pence coin I need for the locker where we store all our clothes. I won't have a 20 pence coin, so I'll have to carry all our belongings to the poolside and desposit them under the sign that reads 'Please do not deposit your belongings at the poolside. Please use the lockers provided.' I would use the lockers provided if I had a 20 pence coin. If I use the lockers without a 20 pence coin, someone will steal my shoes.

By then the children are in the pool and Shark will have an argument with Fish, our swimming teacher. Fish knows the warning signs now, and she'll back off. She had to close the pool the time the argument went too far. Shark had already been carried out, as stiff as an ironing board; she'd then locked herself in a cubicle and taken to smashing it up. It took 30 minutes to get her out. We had to send a letter of apology.

If we manage the last fifteen minutes of the lesson without being sent out or carried out we have time for a leisure swim. I hate leisure swim. The children jump on me and force me to twirl them by holding them out and spinning them round. I don't mind one twirl each but ten twirls each makes me feel sick. Then I'll want to go home. I'll have to bribe them to get out. And we have to do the shower. I hate the shower. Everytime I'm in it I shudder at the memory of the time I had to clean up the poo. It was everywhere, and it wasn't even my baby. The mother had legged it. That's the sort of place we go swimming in.

Then it's back home, where Dig has been in charge of preparing lunch. By then the children will be famished. If we're lucky, Dig will have made us baked potatoes. If we're unlucky, he'll have forgotten to turn the oven on. Last time we discovered those delicious raw feasts it was 2.04. The chippy closes at 2.00.

And so it goes on. The lingering smell of chlorine and the horrible itchiness of it. The horrible slimy tiles in the toilets and the cramped changing room where I can barely turn round to stare at someone's chewing gum on the back of the door. And then most of all I hate the sight of me in a swimming costume. I try not to look. I've organised our first swimming lesson of the term for next Wednesday. Perhaps I can be ill.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Battle of the Unicorns

I blame the unicorns. They've been implicated in all the trouble today. First appearance is at the breakfast table. They know they're banned. They knock the milk over and squat in the cereal, and when they jump up, they've got sugar puffs glued to their backside. Then the sugar puffs get sprayed all over the floor, which would be OK except for the fact that I vacuum rarely, and sugar puffs glue.

The next time they put in an appearance is our lesson 'Where did the Persian Empire go?' At least that's my title for it. The kids are colouring in a huge picture of Sinbad the Sailor while I look through all their history books on Early Empires, reading out bits and asking if they can find Turkey on the globe. Then the unicorns arrive. They're like an invading army. Blutina is the leader, because she's blue, apparently. After her comes Furryhorn. He's enormous, and is treated like a gentle giant. Only he's not. I've witnessed him in the bran flakes, and it's not pretty. Then there's Lem whom nobody likes, Pinky who has his horn cut off, Misty whom I despise, and Sardine. She wears a pink curly wig. They all start jumping up and down, and onto the floor go all the books and the papers, and we all do a lot of shouting and a new rule is made: No Unicorns to Appear at the Table At Any Time.

If that had been the end of the unicorn trouble, that would be OK. But they cause five more fights. First because Furryhorn is being forced to marry Blutina and he doesn't like it. Second because Pinky is wearing a new dress and Misty wants it. Third because Tiger is treatening to draw pictures on Sardine with chalk. Fourth because Lem wants to sit in front of the fire and Blutina says that's her seat. Fifth because Dig has threatened to put Furryhorn and all his little unicorn friends in the bin unless he gets off the table right now. Patience with the unicorns is running a bit thin.

By bathtime, they're back. Dig has found one in the sink and in a temper tantrum he's picked it up by the horn, dripping wet, and thrown it into the yard. It's Sardine, with her pink wig. Squirrel, meanwhile, is sitting on the floor, throwing stuff around the room and making ill-advised comments about the state of the house. So Dig picks her up too, and she's in the yard as well. Only she owns Sardine. Back in the house comes Squirrel, holding Sardine at arm's length and dripping all over the floor. Squirrel is persuaded to get in the bath, and Sardine is bundled into the washing machine. Thirty minutes later I find her pink wig has come off in the wash. Now Squirrel is very proud of this wig. She especially made it for Sardine because we all laughed at her bald patch. I didn't realise that was a cruel thing to do until the wig appeared. Then I helped glue it on. It looked better than the chin straps.

Now the unicorns, bar Sardine, are all in their rightful places in the beds of their owners and the children are asleep. All weary day long I've been threatening to put any unicorn I see into a bin liner. And now, after the unicorn wars have all stopped, I find myself tenderly glueing on Sardine's wig, and putting her to dry on the radiator so she looks soft and fluffy for the morning.

Honestly, if I had any power over this, I'd go round now, and cut off all their horns.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Spear of Destiny

I'm working this afternoon. Dig's bundled the kids into the car to take them to the playbarn at the local farm. He says he's only going down the slide so he can teach them about mass.

So I'm left in the office all alone. This seems like fun at first. I can eat the children's smarties. I can dance about to Talking Heads. I can leave messages on Oo's answerphone. I can cruise around the iTunes store for my ipod. But at some point, I have to get on with something. Dig'll be back at six and I suppose leaving me here so I can typeset the 'very urgent book that must be done by the weekend' needs to count for something. It's how I get paid.

Now it takes me half an hour of grinding my teeth and slamming papers around the desk the moment I see this unreadable pile of drivel. No wonder I have to turn up the volume on Siouxsie and the Banshees and march about eating chocolate.

First on the list of crimes commited by authors expecting to get their books copyedited, set, proofread and printed all in one week is sending 42 different email files to Dig, with little notes attached to each one, saying things like 'This supersedes the others' and 'This is the correct version now' and 'Did you get the corrections I sent you last week by post?'. Those authors go to the back of the queue, i.e. in the pile on the floor which I routinely trip over and send all the papers sliding around while I'm jumping about to the La's.

Then there are the authors who are design illiterate. They feel they need to emphasise words. Lots of words. They usually start with italics. But soon italics don't seems quite enough. Then they use bold. Soon enough it's italics and bold, then off we go into CAPS with added underline. Unfortunately all the typesetting options they needed to set their technical examples have been used up by then, so they start drawing boxes and bubbles around words. And if we suggest changing anything, they get up on high horses and make things up to cover their appalling design ignorance, so they'll say things like 'I want my bold. It's standard 1990s Dicendrian practice and supersedes the Ecuweedian system. So there'.

Then there's the authors who can't make up their minds. They send one version by paper, and then a different version electronically, with the same title of course, so we don't know which book to set. One author was doing fine until he got to the conclusions and then supplied two different endings, which came to different conclusions.

So I'm plugged into the Mission and contemplating the pile of dross on my office desk that the world would be better without, and I'm thinking how wonderful it must be to be able to create a thing of beauty, like a fine piece of music or a delicate picture, or moving words on a page. If I could be aged 17 again, I might try. But now, faced with setting 500 pages of the grammatical significances of the prefix ex- I might just turn up the volume on The Cure and scoff chocolate.

Monday, 8 January 2007

A tidy-up afternoon

We've been tidying the children's room. I've had a long shout and two aspirin. Tidy up times are particularly horrible and moreso because of the furniture moving all around us while we expand into the top flat, so to add to my misery, nothing seems to be where it was yesterday.

Normally it takes about six weeks between breaking points. When I can no longer cross the floor without looking as if I've worked for the Ministry of Silly Walks, as I have to step over crayons, papers, books, lego blocks, unicorns (with and without horns), the bizarre reconstruction of a cauldron from wool and chopsticks, a partly deflated plastic ball a Swiss waitress gave to Tiger, a papier mache model of the sun which never actually made it to the solar system, plus Shark's model of Kookaburra made from cotton wool and pom poms, well it all gets a bit too much and I become shouty.

Squirrel is the first to grab the broom to sweep up. In five minutes Shark, who's foolishly sitting on the floor trying to reconstruct her Kookaburra, is in tears with a red lump on her forehead because Squirrel has backed the broom handle into her by accident. I remove the broom from a quarrelsome Squirrel and promptly drop it on Shark's head. I pick the broom up, lift it into the air, and wallop Tiger with the bristle end as I swing it out the way. Things are not going well.

A bit more shouting is called for, plus the threat of a black bin liner unless everyone picks up something instead of sitting there howling. Admirably, the kids jump to work and soon have a massive pile of all the stuff which leaves the floor around it clean, and creates a structure which temptingly looks like a bonfire.

Item by item we sort through it and they must say whether this is something they want to keep or throw away. If it's to be kept it must have a place to live. They suggest under the bed. This is all Dig's fault. Years ago he did this with all the children's stuff in a misguided attempt to bring humour into our marriage and I hope he's never forgotten the consequences. So now I'm behaving like Judge Jeffreys and if anything so much as looks as if it's going to go in the direction of 'under the bed' I'm going to hang the unicorns.

It takes nearly two hours to see the floor with just one 15-minute break for an argument over the pom-pom box and two aspirin. The sun is in the recycling bin, the cauldron is dismantled and the Kookaburra is on Shark's shelf, waiting for a beak. All the unicorns are on the right beds, the crayons in the box, papers are neatly stacked and the books are on the bookshelves. This is bliss. Until we do the bed check. This is a nightly event round here thanks to the finding of a pair of scissors and a piece of wood in Tiger's bed one morning while checking for wee. After months of training, all the children now accept that sleeping with craft tools, woodwork items, the contents of the sewing basket and any food product is not recommended. But Squirrel didn't get her name for nothing. Under the pillow tonight she has 15 pipecleaners, a roll of silver tape, a Barbi doll, three jigsaw pieces, a piece of plasticine, a toy horse and a spoon.

By the end of the children's day we all conclude the tidy up session is a great achievement. Everyone's delighted with a wonderful stretch of bare wooden floor that we can all dance in and jump around on. Only thing is, I can see the children feel something's missing, and in the first instance it's probably the contents of the crayon box, the pile of paper, the Kookaburra without the beak, and the sun, rescued from the recycling bin. But for tonight, I might fall in love with this small patch of visible floor and gaze at it adoringly. I shall photograph it now, so I've got something to remember of it in the weeks to come.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Out of sorts

We're all tetchy today. Squirrel burst out of her bed this morning shouting lungfulls of abuse at Tiger, who responded by hurling a bowl of bran flakes at Shark and pouring milk over the table. Squirrel then pulled my starry light-pull off the ceiling due to over-exaggerated arm movements; I shouted, Shark hid. Dig is complaining about the freecycle bags stacked up in the hall, and I'm complaining that I seem to be restricted to four messages a day on the freecycle list. I expect a call from Dosh later, complaining that the Agents have been complaining because of my glowering behaviour in the hall yesterday and the banging noises coming from our kitchen. He'll think it's a deliberate vendetta to stop him getting a tenant. Well, it is, but not against him. On the other hand, it would be great if he couldn't get a tenant and had to sell his flat to us, but yesterday he said he was planning his retirement in the flat and that he was going to put in a Stannah stair lift. Not if I've got anything to do with it.

I blame the lessons. they all start again tomorrow. And we're all tetchy. The one big disadvantage with home education is that we're hardly ever at home. French, Italian, ballet, swimming, trampoline, violin, gym, they've all got to be fitted in. Then there are the social engagements, the parties and the tea parties. Then we squeeze in trips to the theatre and trips connected to history, geography, and so on. It's not easy. And now I'm dense enough to be checking out Brownies and signing everyone up for the local kids theatre group.

Then I find the invoice for Squirrel's ballet lessons. Now for a moment I am not tetchy. I am smug. This will be the first time ever that Twig, the ballet teacher, does not have to re-issue the invoice because I've lost it. I am very smug. Then I realise I can't remember which day Squirrel will go to ballet this term because it always changes. Twig has told me, and I've forgotton. So tomorrow I have to go down to grovel to Twig about that instead.

Then there's the letter with the invoice. Apparently standards are slipping. The girls do not wear buns. I am certain this message is meant for me. I am certain Twig hates me. Squirrel does not wear a bun. In fact, Squirrel bursts through the door, five minutes late, with uncombed hair bagged up in a pony-tail, tutu round her backside, and inside out, felt-tip all over her fingers, tomato sauce round her cheeks, and wearing a leotard with last week's Strawberry Mivvi on it because I forgot to wash it. It is almost as bad as the time we turned up to the speech therapy department wearing no shoes.

Now we're all at odds with the whole world. Squirrel has decided she's leaving this family and has packed her bag. Even though we point out to her she's wearing a nightdress and is frightened of the dark, she's still leaving. Shark is howling on the sofa because Squirrel is leaving. Tiger says she doesn't care because she's also leaving tomorrow anyway, but not before she has shouted the word 'poopy' ten thousand times, obviously, which is what she's doing now.

And me, I'm going to bed with my ipod. Tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Angry and wronged

The Agents are coming back. We had a telephone call from Dosh last night, who owns one of the middle flats of this wonderful old house-made-into-flats. He says the Agents will be showing people round over the next few days. Pastry's not coming back: she moved up North before Christmas and Dosh has set the Agents onto finding him a new tenant.

We used the Agents when we rented out the top flat. Our tenant, Kar, had just left to start her own business with balloons and the flat was empty. We called the Agents. Round they came, smiling, with double-breasted grey suits, sunglasses and clipboards. They took some flattering photos, which quite frankly isn't hard, because it's an attic flat, the ceilings are inverted V shapes, and the woman we bought it from was an interior designer, and knew what she was doing. She was also 150,000 pounds in debt, as we discovered thanks to the bailiffs calling everyday after contracts were exchanged and she'd scarpered, but that's another story.

So the Agents came, took photos, and left. Two days later I get a telephone call from Agent Number 2 who says he's got a lady who's very interested. I say no. Mostly because I suspect she's his girlfriend and I don't want to see his fizzog creeping down the stairs at 7.30 every morning. Also because the lovely lady has a teenage son who plays rugby. 'No'. It's definite. My walls have been professionally ragged by a heavily-in-debt interior designer and I'm betting that paint cost a fortune.

A month passes and Dig takes a call in the office from Agent Number 2 saying how delightful it is that the lovely lady is moving in that afternoon and can we pop up to meet her and the rugby playing son when they're settled. Dig says 'What lady?' 'She's very lovely' comes the reply. 'I don't know anything about any lovely lady moving in' says Dig. 'Your lovely wife was over the moon to have her in your lovely flat' smarms Agent Number 2. Dig comes through to ask me if I've agreed to rent out the top flat to the lovely lady. He's clearly suspicious thanks to slimeball being so convincing. I can see Dig's not sure: he thinks I've had some memory turn and agreed to the rental, and that I must be going mad if I've forgotton.

For 15 minutes then, Agent Number 2 put me in the position of being on the back foot, denying madness and deceit to my own husband. At that moment, if I were ever see Agent Number 2 again, I'd break both his legs.

I'm planning it now. First, I intend the tongue-lashing to have fatalities. I've equipped the kids with the legs of a broken chair I've dragged out from under the eaves in the top flat this very morning. They think Christmas has come again and have been hammering the legs on the kitchen table for the last half-hour.

And if he doesn't show his lying face round here over the next few days I might just hunt the slimeball down, as he cowers behind his office desk.

Wronged women are never nice.

Friday, 5 January 2007

Memo: never gloat

The kids went to their kiddie RSPB meeting last night. So they're full of albatrosses dying in the Antarctic. The leader, Robin, said everyone should bring a picture of an albatross to next month's meeting.

This morning out comes the lining paper and a reference book and we measure the wingspan of the Wandering albatross. We draw out the wings, life-size, on the paper, all 3.5 meters of them. Then we add the head, beak and tail. We glue on white feathers. We've only got 8 white feathers, and Squirrel glues them all together, on the floor, by accident. She then glues the Wandering albatross's pair of wiggly eyes to the kitchen table. It looks like the table's watching me now. Never mind we think, and draw on the eyes and feathers instead with felt-tip.

It looks like a work of art, I think, smugly. Then Tiger sits on it while Shark and Squirrel flap its wings and we all go off for a ride. I feel very good about all this. At next month's kiddie RSPB meeting, we'll take our lining paper life-size Wandering albatross with saddle drawn on, and we'll show it off while all the other kiddies have weeny little rubbish pictures they did that morning over breakfast. I'll nod smugly, and explain, 'we're home educated you know' and I'll feel utterly superior.

My mother always said pride comes before a fall. Last year we went with Dig to a posh do somewhere important. We got sat at the table by the toilets and when everyone else had got seated, the fashionably late 6-year-old Evangelina and her terribly posh mother with perfect hair arrived. Evangelina was tri-lingual and the most extraordinarily posh child I have ever met. Ours pick their noses. Evangelina doesn't. So I tried to go in for the educational kill. I thought I had Evangelina cornered when I was explaining that unlike private education, the benefit of home education is we can create the curriculum we want, when we want, and make it happen how we want. I said we'd recently been doing a project on dinosaurs. Shark had done a lovely colouring in after the visit to the Dino theme park, and Tiger had done all our dino jigsaws. Squirrel had made a dino cake for us and we'd all watched The Flintstones. 'Oh' said Evangelina, then turned to Shark. 'Which is your favourite period? Do tell me. Mine's Cretaceous. And I just love those sweet little Allosaurus, don't you?'

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Freecycle hell

I've been temporarily suspended from the freecycle list for over-posting. The very nice moderator, who has to sort out these things, suggested that 54 posts in one day were a little bit too many and perhaps I might list some of the items we're trying to offload in one long message. I don't know how I'm supposed to condense the 23 messages I've so far sent about the Teletubby jigsaw. What's wrong with it for heaven's sake? Why won't anyone take it? They take any old cak on freecycle so what's wrong with our Teletubby jigsaw? I shouldn't have been so honest, that's what. I shouldn't have mentioned that Laa laa's got a foot missing or that Dipsy's got something sticky on his hat that I can't get off. Nor should I have said that someone's drawn a moustache, fangs, a devil's tail and horns on Po. OK, that was me, but she asked for it.

Then when it's not the Teletubby jigsaw it's the freecycler from hell. Now I should have remembered this one by the user name. I once offered to take away from him a 'Teach Yourself Russian' cassette tape and what a palaver that was. Fourteen phone calls, countless email messages and a campaign that ended in a dead bird on the footpath. Well, I don't know that the dead bird was actually his doing, but it felt like it at the time.

He's just offered to take away the children's jigsaws, but 'Not the Teletubby one where Laa laa's got no foot', he said. So I bagged them up, with the Teletubby one where Laa laa's got no foot, and put the bag outside with his name on it. Then he doesn't show up to collect it and the emails start. 'My car doesn't work' says the first. 'And it's got no tax' says the second. 'I might have to send my son on the bus for it' says another. 'He's only aged 3' comes later. I think he's angling for me to drive the 15 miles to Downley, give him the jigsaws, and then probably pay for his car to pass its MOT. I'm not giving in. And I find Laa Laa's foot behind the fridge. So I reoffer it all on freecycle, with explanations, and I see all my messages stacked up with a very nice note from the very nice moderator.

Oh heck. I might just as well put Laa laa with her foot into the boot and drive the 15 miles over to Downley. Come to think of it, dark comes early round here, so I could take Laa Laa, Dipsy, Tinky Winky and Po right to his front door and leave them there forever with some Hard as Nails glue.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

The Library

The library in the centre of town always brings back memories. Like the time we were asked not to come back. It was six months before I had the courage to show myself. I hoped by leaving it so long the librarian would have forgotten what we looked like. She hadn't. She kept her eyes on us. She has the sort of puckered up lips you might get if you drank raw lemon juice several times a day.

It was when the children were all aged 3. Now with triplets I'm definitely at a disadvantage when they all run off in different directions. And they did. Shark started it by weeing on the floor behind the parent's shelf. I decided a dignified exit might be in order. Shark and Tiger ran off from the childrens area, which is upstairs, and legged it down to the exit, on the ground floor. Only Squirrel wouldn't come. She'd found some audio tapes and she wasn't going to leave them. But I had to run after Shark and Tiger. They were the ones who could leave the building, after all. And this is where I blame the librarian. She made it worse. She seemed to think I'd run off, abandoning my child. As if I would do it in the middle of a library for pity's sake. No, I'd choose a forest or something and frisk her for breadcrumbs. So the librarian ran after me. I thought you weren't supposed to shout in the library. That librarian was doing plenty. Especially when Squirrel sat on the floor and started ripping the cassette tape from the spools.

I needn't have worried about Shark and Tiger running out the library. They were having a fight on the stairs. Tiger seemed to be lying across several steps and Shark had her foot on Tiger's head. There was a huge amount of screaming going on in all directions by then. A bit of motherly physical intervention was called for. One at a time I got them to the ground floor desk and asked the lemon sucker if she could help. 'No' she said. Thank you, Melton Council, for your training programme. So I left Shark and Tiger brawling by the 'Just returned' shelf at her desk and ran back up for Squirrel, by now wrapped in cassette tape and resembling some strange sort of miniature mummy. I got her down the stairs and put her with the other two. They're all screaming and howling and rolling around the floor and I try and take a breather and recover my senses. Suddenly, Squirrel jumps up and runs off out the building. She sets off the alarm as she goes, because she's still holding the cassette boxes. I chase after her, bring her back, and Tiger legs it back up the stairs to the children's library. So I chase after her, bring her back, and find Shark and Squirrel, still wrapped up in her cassette tape, pulling books off the shelf 'Just returned'.

It's still raw, three years later. The horrible details still haunt me. The look of contempt from the lemon sucker and the line of parents with perfect pre-schoolers staring at the floor show. The cassette tape, streaming in the wind.

I suppose I got off lightly. I had to pay £6.99 today for the book we lost in August last year. It was part of our 'Workplace' project, and it was titled, 'Jobs people do: the librarian'. I have a horrible feeling I might have thrown it in the bin, by accident.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Back to work

We're all back to work. Furniture moving's been put on the back burner. Dig's still sorting out his office though. When he's not reminding me with a note of regret about the crocodile sanctuary we once visited, he's trawling through his emails. Today he finds there's a bit of panic about. Apparently he's caused a bit of fuss over Christmas thanks to his use of commas. Someone's started an email petition against him. It's got a thousand signatures on it. Some people have added comments like 'Dig is a sloppy academik'. Dig signs it and adds 'Dig is a very slopy writter.'

Of course all of the authors are back at work as well, which is worse for me. When I'm not moving furniture, managing a household and home educating triplets, I typeset books for academics; the office is next door to the kitchen, so I reckon Dig thinks that's handy for me. I gave up the copy editing. I caused too much trouble and everyone hated me because I deleted all their commas before 'and'. Sometimes I did it deliberately, for revenge. Now I set their books with a widow wherever I can, and I try and get the widows to spell out something rude or bizarre. My best so far has been, 'in passing water Jenkins (2006) pulled chickens from windowsills'. I'm still working on the technique, obviously.

But the authors are back. The first one wants to know why his book isn't published because he emailed us the corrections on Christmas Eve. Twit. I think his print run is scheduled at 500 copies. Most of those he'll have to give to his mum. I bet she likes to read 'Lexicogrammar: theoretical developments since 1953'.

And I'm back doing the home educating, in half-hour chunks, which is about as much as we all can take somedays. This weekend The Hat is taking them to see the last performance of The Arabian Nights by the local theatre group. So we're doing Persia. We can't find it on the map, so that's the first question we work on. My lovely mapwork is immediately hijacked by 'Unicorn land' and 'Fairy land' and 'Pegasus land', so we embark on drawing maps of these and outlining significant battles that took place between the mythicals and the humans which resulted in loss of human territory.

But then Shark has a squealing fit and throws a clutch of crayons at Tiger. Tiger responds by throwing the entire bucket of crayons at Shark. Tiger follows it with a temper tantrum, screws up her map and starts to eat it. All is going well with Squirrel until she bursts into tears because she's written the year 2009 on her map and she wanted 1009. At that point she shouts 'I'm leaving this family!' then marches out the kitchen and slams the door. Five minutes later she's back to kick the kitchen chairs over and be ejected from the Where is Persia? class until she calms down.

Tomorrow I've a good mind just to put on a bit of Rimsky Korsakov and push off to the office. But I have to go to the library and confess. I'm not looking forward to that. I've been putting it off since August. Wish me luck.

Monday, 1 January 2007


Dig's gone beserk. After skulking in his office for days, as soon as January 1st dawns he's back in there, turning out the cupboards, clearing up the floor and feeding the shredder. Strangely he took that moment to remind me of the date of our wedding anniversary.

He's been strange all day and a bit shouty. It's as if the bong of that final hour has bonged a momentous bong in his brain. I'm going to keep my eye on this. He has moments of aberration after all. He once deposited a dead bird in his waste paper basket. It took us days to find out where the smell was coming from. I wondered if he'd had some sort of memory turn and buried a pile of exam scripts in the garden.

I have to say there are some very unwelcome memories coming out the cupboards. The paperwork of two car crashes returned today to haunt me: the first time I'm sure it wasn't me but an elderly finance adminstrator with a cold, who was driving a worn-out Ford. She changed lanes in front of me near Wreston and I removed a bit of her bumper. When her friend came out the passenger side she was wobbling an awful lot and shouting 'We only came for tea! We've got to be in Wales!' She looked very suspicious. And I didn't really think a dent in a bumper meant the car lost the ability to drive over the border. The second crash was much more horrible. The local kidnapper removed the front of our car while they were doing their kidnapping job and being chased by the police at the same time. I thought that was very unlucky. And I know it was nothing to do with me. I was making tuna sandwiches in the kitchen.

So my resolutions have to be keep an eye of Dig, at least over the coming week. And be more organised in the paper department, and immediately destroy all incriminating, upsetting and offensive papers that might pop out at me in the future.

Sadly, I've broken today a resolution I made in 1966 in Mrs Smith's end of term, Friday afternoon, bring-something-to-do-from-home session. I had a very traumatic experience with a pair of knitting needles. Today Aunty Dee persuaded me to have a knitting lesson for the good of the children. Tsk. The sacrifices I have to make.