Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The babysitter

Aunty Dee is coming to stay. She's driving down tonight from the North east for babysitting duties. I've agreed, with great amount of complaining, whining and wingeing, to go up to Big Town and to the Posh Do with Dig. I've tried to get out of it. I put up a great amount of argument, pointing out all the drawbacks, miserable consequences, problems and hindrances that will inevitably arise if I go. Usually, people give in, and I win. Double success. I get out of things and I get top dog in the argument. But I meet my match in Dig.

First, the babysitting. There's no-one to babysit. NanJo's gone to university. Aunty Dee lives miles away. An agency's out of the question, and no-one's crazy enough to babysit triplets anyhow. Job done. But Dig gets on the phone to Aunty Dee. Next thing I know she's driving down the M1.

So I try the RSPB meeting. The children missed their meeting last month due to vomiting. They never got to show off their life-size albatross made out of wallpaper, currently rolled up in the umbrella rack. And if we went to Big Town, they'd miss it again. Tiger would be distraught. Shark would sulk. Squirrel would be psychologically damaged. I have to stay at home to take them. Dig says Aunty Dee can be a named driver on the car insurance and she can take them.

Aha! I say. Aunty Dee will get lost on the way. She will crash the car. Everyone will have to go to hospital. The children will be disoriented. Robin, the RSPB leader, will think I have abandoned the children and call Social Services. Dig's counter argument is not as clever as mine, but it is consistent, which is hard to combat. His argument is basically, 'So what?'

Then I try something a bit closer to home. I cannot wear a dress. I don't have a dress that fits. I wear jeans with vomit and paint on them. I have given away all my shoes. A freecycler called Gertie is wearing them. Dig says that since Aunty Dee will be here all day tomorrow I can go out and buy new shoes and a new dress. Damn.

Right. Some truths are called for. Dig will meet important people. They are big in commas all over the world. They make decisions with businesses worth millions of pounds. I'm a mother of triplets and I'm not going. Dig is cunning. He says I won't be invited next year so I can be rude to whoever I want to be rude to, and the food is good. This is a problem. I like being rude. And I like other people cooking for me. I agree to go. But I tell him that he had better be ready to visit the children in hospital after Aunty Dee has disoriented them and crashed the car. He says that's alright, and don't forget she's a social worker, so she should be able to deal with Social Services when they call.

So tomorrow we're off to Big Town. I've kept quiet about the fact that I got an Episode silk dress for £3 from the RSPCA and that the house clearance in Northumberland turned up a pair of serviceable black kitten heels. At the last minute I can't do anything about the coloured hair, apart from shave it all off, but that's a bit of a drastic tactic, even for me.

Well, I will just have to blog about my dreadful evening from the side of a hospital bed. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Not the hairdressers

I have to colour my hair. This is horrible. The upstairs sink will look like a bloodbath. It'll remind me of how my mother could gut fish. There is nothing worse than colouring your own hair at home. Except having to go swimming on Wednesdays, which is possibly the worst thing of all.

I gave up going to the hairdressers about three years ago. I had such a miserable set of experiences I wondered why on earth I was paying £80 a time to have them.

First I gave up going to the hairdressers that I'd been going to since 1984 when I had my hair accidentally dyed orange. The cut was great. I looked like a fan member for the Thompson Twins. It was just the colour that was orange. Typical. Go to a trendy hairdressers and they don't turn the lights on, except the red and neon ones, and then, in the semi-darkness and under the flashing neon lights that read 'Get It On', they ask you to pick a hair colour. It wasn't until I got into daylight that I actually saw what colour I'd got on. That was the end of the 'going to the trendy hairdresser' stage.

The next hairdresser had my custom on and off for 20 years. Well now it's definitely off. They got so used to me appearing every six months with my hair looking like I'd been electrocuted again, that the stylists never bothered to ask about cut, colour, or whether I'd got anything special to do that weekend. The last time I showed up, my 'personal stylist' sat reading 'Hello!' magazine when I came in and, without bothering to look up, said 'Same again?' During the miserable process of having the same again hair colour applied she then thrust a copy of 'Period Living' at me, making me feel a bit like a fifteenth century ruin. And that was the end of that.

Next I found a place in town, which seemed promising. Until the incident with the fire brigade. Now there is nothing quite as humiliating as standing for 45 minutes on the pavement in the centre of town and in the middle of the day, wrapped in plastic bags while red hair dye dribbles down your face. In that case my 'personal stylist' was chain-smoking her way through a packet of twenty, complaining the bloody kettle was always setting off the bloody fire alarms but how she might do it deliberately next time because the firemen were bloody fit. Oh did that experience make me feel like a lady. And they still charged the full £80 for it.

So I decided to go it alone. Superdrug do a bottle for £2.59 and sometimes two for a fiver. And I've put if off as long as possible. Well it's no use putting it off any longer. The six months are up, and I'm going with Dig to the Posh Do on Thursday night. So it's time to colour hair and gut fish.

Wish me luck.

Monday, 26 February 2007


There's a leak in the top bathroom which is dripping through the ceiling onto the landing. Dig got rained on with a plip! plop! plip! when the children pulled the plug on the bath. This is bad news.

We are now in the bizarre and unusual situation of living across three flats and have a total of five toilets, two baths and three showers.

None of the showers work. The one downstairs in the old cellar hasn't worked for ten years. When it was installed, the chief shower tile technician and his oppo put the shower tray tiles on upside down, so the water channelled into the grout, stayed there, and eventually dissolved the grout. After regrouting and resealing the problem and solution remains the same: take out the old tiles and retile with new. Unable to face that task while the rest of the house falls down, the shower got used as a cupboard.

The shower in the office flat is disgusting. The tiles fell off the wall about four years ago. I'm not sure whether Dig's removed them from the shower tray or whether he just stands on a tile pile when he showers. I won't go in there to find out. I stopped going in as a protest about the leak from the shower tray which has knocked the plaster off the wall and destroyed the wooden floor in the flat next door. And the last shower we've got is upstairs in the top flat. And now it leaks.

So it might be that we're all back down to the childrens bathroom again, where there's only a bath and no shower. There's also a revolting toilet which has seen seven years of child use including paint, toothbrushes, bath foam, and a Sindy doll with a bag on her head.

What makes it worse is that in a post-pregnancy fit six years ago I painted a green leafy jungle all over the walls with animals peeping out, so there are zebras and hippos and monkeys staring at anyone who chances a wee in Sindy's paddling pool. I had to whitewash the tiger out because Squirrel got scared. So now there's a strange white misty patch in the green leafy jungle with the chin of a tiger poking through where Shark took a scrubbing brush to the walls.

Oh well, there's always a bucket in the yard. And for me, I might start going back to the gym again every morning. They do a lovely warm towel service with scented shower gel to go with their wonderful high pressure hot showers. And I don't have to take responsibility when they leak.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

The new room

I have a schoolroom. I've agonised long enough. And we're calling it a schoolroom. Schoolroom schoolroom schoolroom. There. That's got it out into the world.

Now for the benefit of non-home educators, I have to explain. Because here in Central town, we don't Home school, we Home educate. And we've stayed away from the word 'Home school' in case it implies school at home, with a timetable, and National curriculum books, and different disciplines, and sitting round the table doing worksheets. We don't do that package.

We don't quite do the full autonomous thing either. I'd feel inadequate when it comes to running about supporting three completely different interest areas of triplets. And then I'd worry that Squirrel was making a cable car, even though she'd really like to make a fish, because Tiger is making a fish. And Tiger's only making a fish because Shark's making a table, and they all have to do something different, just to be different, even though sometimes they'd quite like to do the same.

So our form of home ed is probably a mix between school and autonomy. We do themes, and focus weeks, and projects. We'll look at something everyone's interested in, like elephants. We'll go and see elephants, read and write poems about elephants, make a giant elephant out of cardboard, cook elephant dung cake from a recipe we make up; we'll draw pictures of elephants, find a webcam on a temple elephant in Asia, learn about elephants at work, the ivory trade, and elephant distribution round the world. I bet somewhere there's an elephant museum. And in it all, if anyone cares to look, there'll be maths and geography and literacy and history and so on.

When we mix school and autonomy, we stick to phrases like 'we home educate'. Then, to stay on the safe side, we start saying things like 'we home educate in the community using the home as a base'. Well, saying, 'We have a room in which we home educate and sometimes in a structured manner and from which we speculate and then build on our experiences in the community' starts to sound like a mouthful. So we considered 'Workroom' but what goes on here isn't work, it's fun. Saying 'Playroom' is wrong too. 'Resources room' sounds like a cupboard and 'Schome' sounds like a fruity bun. So it's Schoolroom.

I have a Schoolroom. Since the children moved out yesterday and into their new bedrooms, I've installed into the Schoolroom two Ikea tables and four chairs, including a rocking chair for stories; storage trays for craft items, paint and construction sets; and trays for paper craft, sewing and knitting. The shelves are stacked with books and games. Already the display areas are disappearing and I'm planning new shelves to display the huge assortment of craft objects that can be churned out from toilet rolls, pom poms and wiggly eyes.

And tonight the Schoolroom is lovely. Soon it will be a tip, and I won't be able to find anything. Or we'll all have to move the beds back in, and I'll lose it forever. But right now, for these brief hours, it's a great place to home educate.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

A birthday day

First up for the three birthday girls, the birthday cards. One arrives from Aunty Dee with a note of apology, having been shredded by Royal Mail. The pieces have been thoughtfully put in a plastic bag.

This is better than one of the birthday presents, a red dressing-up dress I bought three weeks ago from ebay, which hasn't arrived at all. There's been no reply from the seller to my emails, so I've been badmouthing her and kicking the furniture. Next I'll find she's lying in a hospital bed with her appendix in a jar and my cheque still on her doormat.

Cake, we did two yesterday, and we're all feeling a bit over-caked. So we're cutting out the cake today. Balloons I had yesterday and didn't blow up, so will consider saving them until we can have another go at some sort of party next week.

The rest of the events, like presents, are down to us: new bedrooms, a playroom, and a line of dressing-up dresses in all colours, except in red. Today is moving day.

The moving of furniture and the clearing of detritus goes on all day. The chandelier goes up, with a lot of cursing, and the ladders come down. The light-stop curtains go up, and the new dressing up box is installed. The mattresses go up, and the old beds start to be dismantled.

Dig's not sure about taking the old beds apart. First he says he doesn't want to do it. He says it's because of the emotional trauma. When we got them about three years ago Dig had to threaten legal action to prise them out of the company who made them. It took six months. At one point the kids were sleeping on the floor. When the beds finally arrived, the construction took ages. Then we realised that while they looked great in the shop, with three of them lined up in the bedrooms, they looked a bit like a hospital ward. So to spare Dig's sensitivities I took the first bed down quietly, with care, time, and an alan key. Ten minutes later I find him smashing the second one apart with his foot and a rubber mallet.

By 8 in the evening, everyone's starving. And in the rush of the past few days, I've forgotten about food. There's a bent carrot in the fridge and three green potatoes in the cylindrical container I call a potato hopper and which Ikea call a plastic bag store. This doesn't look good. We had the pasta option for lunch. I suggest I make tomato bread and then discover we haven't got any tomato and we haven't got any bread either.

Dig comes up with a plan. Go to the Pizza Shop in the market square. This is excellent. Last week we hit the chippy, then it was an Indian take-away and the other night a Chinese meal for Chinese New Year. The Pizza Shop will spare our blushes. We've only ever tried it once; when we all got there, starving, it was shut for staff training. But tonight they're open, and can do tomato and pineapple for the birthday girls.

After supper we're probably wrong to let the princesses into the new playroom to find all their dressing-up dresses lined up for them. It's far too late, and they still have the excitement of their new bedrooms. But there are squeals of delight on finding perfect presents. So it's bed at 11pm. And a momentus day over.

Friday, 23 February 2007

A usual sort of day

Tomorrow's the birthday for Shark, Tiger and Squirrel, and for the last twelve hours I've been in maximum preparation mode. Late afternoon yesterday I dragged myself away from listening to early morning Perth radio and stood by while Shark beat a celebration carrot cake to an almost certain death.

Then it was Tiger's turn to make a rum plum cake without the rum. I would have put rum in it, but we didn't have any. The bottle's empty. There wasn't anything left in the brandy bottle either. There was a bit of vodka, but that didn't seem right for a children's birthday cake, although I considered it.

Thanks to the late night cooking, I was expecting a late morning, and a late arrival at the home educator's craft and get together at the local community hall, but everyone got up early. That threw me, because I had to nip to Tesco for the cream cheese for Shark's carrot cake, and a pack of fresh marzipan so everyone could make marzipan carrots for decoration. So if we were late, it was me, wondering whether I should make a fuss about the marzipan on sale at Tesco with a best before date of Jan 2007, or whether I should look the other way, pretend not to see it and buy it. I'll leave you guessing.

Then we set off, reasonably early for us. And as we arrive in Middling Town, Tiger suddenly calls out with a strangled cry, 'I need to stretch my legs!' I can feel a medical emergency here so tell her to unstrap herself. Next I've got a child standing behind me shouting 'I'm going to be sick!' This would be a fine morning for the local police, stopping a woman driver with an insurance claim already going through the books, doing 50mph over the speed bumps in Middling Town centre with a screaming child unsecured in the rear.

I do get Tiger to the hall in time and rush her headlong into the toilets, which she occupies for half an hour, leaning over the toilet bowl. This is supposed to be a birthday party for her and her sisters. I have balloons, a leaden carrot cake and ideas for silly games. Jol has brought games too, and everyone's waiting. By the time Tiger decides it's all over, there's only 15 minutes of the session left to go. The bounce has gone out of the balloon idea, so we just eat cake and everyone sings Happy Birthday.

In the afternoon we go to lunch with Jol and Am. This is the third time we've come for lunch and we start to take over the house. Shark stomps about and bullies her sisters; Squirrel makes rude comments; Tiger sits on the bed and howls; I come over all teachery and make self-important, hoity-toity comments about when it's time to leave. And as usual, Jol and Am's warmth and good nature lets us get away with it all. One day they'll have had enough of us and put extra locks on the doors.

We're back in good time for the second birthday party of the day, with The Hat, who's late. This is excellent, because it gives Tiger time to do her violin practice and time for me to dredge icing sugar over the rum plum cake without any rum.

By 9.30, The Hat disappears. The night's still young for her, and she has another social appointment to make. Behind her are three pre-birthday ladies, one weeping, one howling, and one hanging over the toilet bowl.

All in all, a perfectly normal day.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Other worlds

Dig's bought an internet radio. This is probably as mind-blowing to me as telephones were to our grandmother Edna. She refused to have a telephone in the house because she didn't trust them. Not like the wireless. She trusted that. You could shout at the presenter and they didn't answer back. Someone on the other end of a telephone might chance a response, and she wasn't having any of that.

So I look at the Internet radio and I'm reminded of Edna Gran and the telephone. And the TV. Apparently, the first thing T'other Gran said on seeing a TV was an exclaimed 'Look! Midgets dancing!' She couldn't work out how the people got to be made so small. And by the time I was aged 4 and sat in front of Bill and Ben I probably couldn't work it out either. But the big difference between me and T'other Gran was that I could accept this collapsed size condition. I didn't know how either, but that was OK.

I feel a bit like Edna Gran and T'other Gran when I get my hands on the internet radio. I'm hanging about the push buttons all afternoon, amazed, tuning in to radio from all around the world, wondering how. But for me it doesn't matter that I don't know. It doesn't matter that I can't speak Japanese, that I don't understand Farsi, or I can't utter a word in Polish. I'm loving hearing these sounds blowing all around the kitchen like warm breath sweeping in from other voices, other places and other times. Here I am, locked inside the house with screaming kids, fighting for access to a stuffed puffin, and I can feel these soft echoes pulsing out from elsewhere, and it's like breathing in perfumed air.

So today is my day. I ignore everybody else and forget they have to eat carbohydrates or they'll scream. I ignore the fact that limp wet socks from the laundry are hanging over the banister and that the dishwasher needs loading. I ignore the fact that an internet radio is a learning opportunity or that the puffin's being nailed by its wings to the wooden floor in the front room. I'm listening to radio Buenos Aires, and wondering about waking up to the traffic outside my hotel window.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Swimming again

We're ten minutes late. I've brought the old towel by accident which has a big hole in the side, and frayed edges. I wish I'd remember and just throw it out. And I still haven't replaced my worn-out flip flops so my feet have to touch the slimy tiles. I must be pulling a face that makes it look like I have an affliction.

Then when I finally get in the pool it's occupied by a man shaped like a pencil and a woman shaped like a blob of melted fudge. They spend quite a bit of time going through a routine that looks to me like it should have a triple X rating, and I rather wish they'd stop. I hope the children don't see, and spend some time swimming up and down in front of Pencil and Fudge so I can act as a curtain. It probably encourages Pencil and Fudge. They probably think they have a willing audience. At that thought I get upset, pull a very disapproving face, and consider getting the lifeguard who sits on top of the ladder to give them a ticking off. Then I reckon I will be accused of being fattist, thinnist, or prudist, and probably prosecuted under an Act of Incitement.

I reason, as I swim up and down, being a curtain, pulling an even uglier face than before, that if I was prosecuted I might be banned from the pool as an undesirable. Things are brightening up. I wonder about interesting ways I might get banned and be unable to bring Tiger, Shark, and Squirrel to swimming lessons. Ever again. I could drink vodka in the pool from a bottle I've shoved down my cleavage, if I had one. I could shout rude words, randomly, at the woggles. I would splash people and laugh.

Actually, I don't have to stare at Pencil and Fudge for too long. When the lesson's over, the girls decide they'd like to get out the pool early. Tiger's looking queasy and I wonder aloud to Shark and Squirrel that she might be sick. This was an error. If we stayed, and Shark was really sick, we might be banned then.

Astonishingly, there's no fuss in the cubicles. Foolishly I've told them about the bait in the car, in the form of three cherry cakes. That's enough to inspire everyone to get dressed quickly and get through the door. But Shark twists her ankle on the way out and limps through the exit. I wonder if we could be eligible for being banned on the basis of an acquired disability.

But no. The problem is, in the swimming pool we attend, virtually anything goes. Next week, Pencil and Fudge will still be there, indescribable horrors will be floating on the surface, and if it's term end, someone will be spitting, screaming, or taking a quiet wee. How I hate it all. I think if I parade up and down naked holding a placard that simply shouts 'BAN ME!' they'd still let me in and congratulate themselves on their policy of inclusion. Damn.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Hornish Airways

The unicorns have packed their bags. Then they boarded Hornish Airways, which was actually a cut-off piece of shelving, held by Tiger. Of course they had to have tickets to get on board and sit on the wood. And everybody had to get past customs, which was Shark, who stood in the doorway with a stick in her hand.

The tickets were good. They were laboriously pressed out from an ancient letraset sheet. I tried to get some maths in while the tickets were being made. Foolish. I tried to suggest the Units, Tens, Hundreds thing again. It didn't work. 'What number's that?' I cautiously say, pointing at 135. 'It's the ticket!' cries Tiger, clearly irritated. 'How many unicorns fit on the aircraft?' I say to Squirrel. 'Mummy you're in the way!' she shouts, bundling unicorns together by the hooves. So I just watch, while I'm putting things away in their proper places. I'm very proud of my new organised system for pipe cleaners and wiggly eyes.

After about half an hour, Hornish Airways takes off. Customs has been grim. All the unicorns have been searched by Shark for contraband items like the tiara that she says is hers. They've been allowed to take some luggage, like bits of wool, the bugs from the Jumpin' Bugs game, a Christmas bauble and Tiger's shoe. The in flight service is rubbish. Tiger makes it through the kitchen and into the hall, and half-way up the stairs. Then five unicorns slide off Hornish Airways and tumble back down the stairs with all their bizarre luggage scattering around them. If I was them, I'd have demanded compensation. They don't even get an apology, just picked up by the horns and flung back upstairs.

When they get to their new homes, the unicorns get stuffed into wicker baskets that are too tiny for them, so that their legs stick out. They're hiding, Squirrel tells me. This is because I have threatened to cut off their horns if I find them in any of the rooms I've cleared out. I'm making prohibition signs, pictures of unicorns in a circle with a red line across, that says underneath, Unicorns Keep OUT.

When Hornish Airways gets back downstairs I confiscate it, since the aeroplane has turned into a weapon and Shark's just about to be on the receiving end from Tiger. Apparently, Shark stood on Furryhorn. Tiger retaliated by telling Blutina that she's no longer Queen of the Unicorns but is a pig in a ditch. Then Pinky and Misty went to war over the wool that was in the luggage and ended tangled up at the foot of the stairs. Sardine is hiding, along with Squirrel, who likes to keep out of these things.

But we're making headway. The unicorns moving from the old bedrooms to the new is like an emotional shift; Shark, Tiger and Squirrel will happily follow.

Now all that's left to do is to put up the chandelier in the princess room, move everyone's clothes, dismantle the old beds, move the mattresses, put up the light-stop curtains, agonise over the price of blinds for Velux windows again, get an electrician to sort out a trip, muck out the old bedroom to become the new playroom, take our old mattress and bed to the tip, pick up the freecycled table and chairs for the little upstairs kitchen, put up the desks in what is the childrens new workroom, buy a third desk fromn Ikea, move around baskets, table and castle, hide Hornish Airways in the garage, and get Dig to put up the Sewing Room shelf and the bathroom mirror. Not much, really.

Monday, 19 February 2007

The Kitchen

I've gone bonkers in the kitchen. After helping Dig get the double mattress in the car to take to the tip, and moving the timber that's inexplicably huddled together in the cupboard under the stairs, I turn to new sites of struggle.

First up, the spice rack. This hasn't been cleaned or attended to since 1995 and possibly 1993. I can tell this because the little jars that keep the spices in also have bits of cut up labels in with 'Best Before' dates. Mostly, they're 1995. I'd like to say the spice rack is gleaming now. Not quite, but much improved. The spices are in-date. And the nutmeg grinder works.

Then it's the toaster's turn. The toaster has lived in the kitchen corner, perched on top of a mountain of breadcrumbs, for about three years. I wrestled the toaster from its nest, and the breadcrumbs go to the birds. That was a job well done. I don't want the rat back again.

Next I attack the piles of detritus. It's taken six years for some of these to grow, slowly, like stalagmites, hoping to reach the ceiling. Some are on surfaces, some on shelves, some on the walls. Out go plastic items that have fallen off things and I don't know what, so I've saved them, just in case. Out go broken and crumbling clay pots, made by toddlers, along with cut out numbers and shapes, once in bright colours, stored for a counting song. Down come baby pictures, old shoes, a cut-out picture of a Christmas tree and a photograph of an ant on the lawn. After an hour I can actually see some of the walls again.

The window is last. By the time I get started on it, it's dark. But I've cleaned it, and moaned about how impossible it is to get window cleaners.

We've had three window cleaners in all the time we've lived here. The first was a bloke who routinely disappeared while he stayed in Her Majesty's Hotel. Then he disappeared altogether.

Next came some contract cleaners six times a year. A team of men would descend on the house for eight minutes. At every window there'd be someone slopping and scraping. They were extremely quick. And expensive. In fact they were so quick they may have been reported to the police. They never had the time to wait while we opened the gates at the back so they could get the ladders in. They just shimmied up the ladders, over the garden wall, and down the other side in 30 seconds. Round here, that's like an advert for a professional burglary. Finally they started to complain that the windows were dirty on the inside and it was compromising their professional standards. One time they didn't show up and that was that.

The last window cleaner was a bloke who marketed himself quite cleverly. He went to the gym, slicked back his hair, stripped down to the waist and wore a pair of torn jeans before sauntering up and down the road with a ladder and a leather hanging from his jeans pocket. He seemed to get a lot of business. Every week he was up at the neighbour's windows. Eventually we succumbed here at The Pile too, once a month. I always made sure I was out. I'm a married woman. I don't want to see semi-naked men pressed up against the windows. Anyway, after two years, he stopped window cleaning altogether. Perhaps he got married and his wife put a stop to it.

In terms of taking control over the house, today has to be counted as a big success. I have a slightly grubby spice rack with ground coriander best before Dec 2007, a toaster surrounded by clean worktop, a ghostly outline of a Christmas tree on the wall, and a smeary window.

So with happiness I can watch the slug, still clinging to the outside of the window, making its slow progress to the top. A bit like us. We move into the top layer of the house on Saturday.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Tomorrow can only get better

Well I spoke too soon there. Tomorrow can get worse. And usually does. This is thanks to Mr Git From Hell. I popped down to the tip today to sniff out bookcases and storage units and had a great time there. It was like heaven. I got three storage units exactly as I need for construction sets, craft items and maths stuff. Since most of my world now is the rearrangement of furniture and the storage of wiggly eyes, I was in heaven on the discovery of these. They slide with a beautiful whisper just under the white desks the children will use in their new work room.

And this is a day on which we'd already had some notable successes; Dig's bought a worksurface that he promises honestly to install downstairs as part of our 'Sewing Room'. Actually the Sewing Room is a worksurface, currently propped against a wall, destined to be positioned in an alcove next to a cupboard, and then have a sewing machine placed on it, but I'm happy, and I'll call it the Sewing Room. Then we've made a wonderful and momentus decision. We're moving next Saturday, on the triplets birthday, so they can sleep in their new bedrooms upstairs when they're aged 7.

So this is a day of no small achievement, and I can see light at the end of the tunnel. The last 6 years of accumulated rubbish is now flying off shelves, the wine rack is cleared of Hama beads, baby stuff is winging its way to the freecycle bags, while neatly organised wiggly eyes and pom poms are settling into their new homes, and the bedrooms upstairs are taking the shape of bedrooms every day. It's all looking like it was forever meant to be. I can sigh happily, knowing that weeks and months of hard work, starting right at the beginning with the clearance in Northumberland and a houseful of boxes, stacked floor to ceiling and waiting to be sorted, is all about to pay off.

And then along comes Mr Git From Hell.

I'm reversing the car at the tip and I hear a bang. So I get out to investigate. I've reversed into another car, and at first I think, 'Thank goodness, no harm there', because I can't see anything wrong with the vehicle I've reversed into. And there's nothing wrong with our car either. Now if I were in any car park in any shopping centre, at this point I would drive off. But there's someone sitting in the car in the passenger seat. So I go to inspect the point of impact closer.

I can see that there's a dent in the door that hasn't cracked the paintwork. When I feel over the door and rub away the dust with my fingertips, there's a dent. Then Mr Git From Hell, who is walking back to his car, requests insurance details. I'm a bit incredulous because it's the sort of dent we get while we're parked outside the house from the vans who park near us. Mr Git From Hell tells me it will affect the resale value of his car. I say 'Do cars have resale values?' I thought the garage just offered a trade in of whatever they needed to get the sale on the new vehicle, dents or no dents.

So we've exchanged insurance details, and Mr Git From Hell is after a new door. Dig is understanding, and doesn't make me feel bad. And that reminds me why I'm still here. It would be easy to make me feel bad about myself, and Dig never has.

Now there's something to look forward to. I can meet Mr Git From Hell on his terms. Look out. On those insurance forms I'm about to become Bitch From Hell. But at least I'll be in a new bedroom, the children will have a new playroom, the front room will be cleared of boxes, and the wiggly eyes and pom poms will be in their proper places.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Horrible day

Dig's home. He arrived back early thanks to giving me the arrival time of the flight in the wrong time zone, followed by a super-fast Virgin train going in the right direction. After ten minutes of being in the house we have an argument. I can't remember what it's about. I think I might resent Dig wandering about Central Asia having an interesting time while I fight with Shark, and while Shark fights with Tiger, and Squirrel hides.

I point out that while he's gone to interesting places, we've had a rubbish time. First of all, there's been a lot of arguments today. Shark came into the kitchen at breakfast time, snatched Tiger's letter jigsaw and followed it up with a few choice insults like 'Tiger is a Poopy Bum.' Cue howls, tears, a lot of teeth gnashing and some growling. Two arguments and one fingernail fight later I sent Shark to her room to calm down where she proceded to scream and throw the xylophone around. It sounded like modern music. Another two arguments later, one over a cuddly lizard, and the other over a plastic bowl, and I'd got everyone to the front room to watch Monsters Inc. I thought that would be a non-confrontational, calming non-activity for everyone to do together, and good therapy after the nightmares: a story about monsters whio are rubbish at their jobs and have to go to monster training school. Tiger spent the entire film hiding under the kitchen table, and Shark hid behind the sofa, so that plan backfired. Then there was another big argument over who had more pasta for lunch and that was that. Dig called brightly and asked if we could pick him up from the station at tea time.

All in all, today has been rubbish and miserable. I don't tell Dig that we went off yesterday and did craft activities with other home educated kids, because that might sound interesting, and then he might accuse me of having an interesting time. I would have to come back with the fact that no matter how many times you make a paper dragon, it's not quite as interesting as being stopped by customs officers in Central Asia because you'd answered 'Yes' to the question 'Are you carrying drugs?' when you'd got six headache tablets in your pocket. The whole argument would descend into petty point scoring about who had had the most interesting time, and I'm sure I'm not the person to do that.

So Dig's back, and the children are happy. But the xylophone's smashed, Monsters Inc has been consigned to the unwatchable pile, I've vowed never ever ever to cook pasta again, I've thrown the plastic bowl away in a temper tantrum, the lizard's in the Chokey, and I've argued with Dig as a welcome home present.

What a horrible day. Tomorrow can only get better.

Friday, 16 February 2007


What a dreadful night. Shark's been having nightmares. And when she's not busy waking me up every hour, Tiger joins in, and has nightmares too. So I'm standing freezing cold, at 2am, 3am, 4am and 5am, with alternate children, trying to coax anyone who might be having a nightmare not to please have any more nasty dreams because I am desperate to go to sleep for more than 40 minutes at a time.

Shark's in tears at 2am when she tells me she sees flashing lights in her room. She says she thinks it might be witches. I tell her that the window faces the yard of the house next door. And they have an outside light. It could be that. There are lots of teenagers living next door, and teenagers come and go at odd hours of the day and night because research has found their brains don't work. Apparently, I tell Shark, with my eyes half-closed, and tilting sideways, hanging onto her bedrail to stop myself falling over with sleep, teenagers can't recognise when their parents are suffering because teenagers have an inability to identify body language and facial emotions. Shark stares dolefully at me, and I wonder if she's in training.

At 3am, Tiger joins in. She won't tell me anything about her nightmares. I hope it's not the child-eating eagle again. The kids are all bird-crazy and can watch Life of Birds for hours, if we'd let them. But Tiger says it's not the child-eating eagle. Apparently he lives in the attic, and he can't get down the stairs because his talons can't grip the carpet. It doesn't seem the right moment to suggest he might fly. So I say nothing about that and try and coax her back to sleep. I'm just glad it's not the eagle.

At 4am, Tiger's crying again. I try and make her laugh. I tell her that at the age of 7 I was terrified about going to sleep because I was worried about being chased by a giant ball of string. She laughs, and says that's silly. I say that it was frightening at the time, but I don't know why. But if I had that dream again now, then I'd dream up a pair of scissors and cut the string apart, then jump up and down on the bits. As I crawl back to bed I hope I haven't given her a new nightmare to worry about, mother going crazy with a pair of scissors while laughing like a maniac.

I'm barely back to sleep when it's Shark's turn again at daybreak, so instead of standing by her bed, freezing, I tell her to get into our bed. This is normally a definite no-no as there's not room, and it's guaranteed I will sleep zero, but this time Dig's wandering about some former Russian state, so there's space. Shark drifts off. I still don't get any sleep because she hogs the bed and kicks.

By morning, everyone is shattered, except Squirrel, who bounds out of bed. Bleary eyed I tell her that her sisters have had a disturbed night, so go easy on them and no picking fights. When I tell her it's because they've had nightmares she looks disdainful and says nightmares are rubbish. She tells me that she keeps UK TV History channel in her brain and she switches on a programme about history if things are going in the wrong direction. She says that's never scary, especially when that man tells you about it.

Phew, I think. Instead of just two girls in nightmare land, I could have had three girls up all night wailing and weeping. I think I might have had to kill myself. So thank you, Simon Schama, for not putting any child-eating eagles or witches into your narrative on Henry III.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

In order

Tiger, Shark and Squirrel have a play date with En and Zee, San's two children. This is excellent. I can take a break from moving boxes and furniture around the house and spend the afternoon nattering.

I discover that San's doing just the same as me: new shelves, new boxes, new homes and new places to go for games, books, paper, pens, glue, jigsaws, cloth and dominoes. We can talk for hours about creating order in chaos, about having resources where we want them, when we want them. I see San's new shelves. Everything looks neat and ordered. Set against the chaos we've been living in, these regular shapes containing so many diverse things is inspiring.

Tiger, Shark and Squirrel are putting out a lot of screaming noise. Suddenly they're tearing around the house, chasing each other, with Shark shouting 'I must get the bucket!' She belts through the front room chasing En, who has his hands over his head.

San just laughs and we get back to talking about accessible storage options for pipecleaners, wiggly eyes and pom poms. Things like this are not just idle fill-in-the-gap stuff that schooled children might consume and dispose of in the meagre hours between school runs and school desks. These pipecleaners, wiggly eyes and pom poms are our educational resources. They're the practical items around which we'll be discussing the human nervous system; they'll be the planets Venus and Mars in a cuddly solar system; they are the craft activity that emerges from hours in the garden, studying a dead beetle or a bit of bark on a forest walk. And they all need storing. We have enthused conversation about boxes, margarine tubs and trays.

Then San's little girl Zee appears. She's leaving home. Even Zee's declaration has a sense of order about it, the pursuit of a goal with firm and calm purpose. I think of ours. When Squirrel's leaving home she shouts at the top of her voice 'I'm leaving this family!' then, red with anger, flings octopus in her suitcase and marches to the front door.

San meets Zee's declaration with an equally good sense of order and proportion. She's very calm and never once shouts out 'I'll call you a taxi!' like we sometimes do. Then, when Zee decides she might stay a bit longer, San says OK. It's all straightforward, and doesn't end with tears or broken toys. Me and San just get back to the subject of how to shelve reference books and store cloth and scissors.

Today has been like therapy. Everything has a place, and everything's in proportion. I'm keeping onto these thoughts when I get back to the chaos, noise, furniture moving and box-clearing. Thank you, San!

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Valentine's Day

Well, I was fighting my way through the red roses on the way out to take the children swimming, as you can imagine. Chocolates, goes without saying. And then the card, my goodness what a card. Nothing compared to the diamond cluster. With matching necklace, of course. The romantic meal, candlelit, for two, obviously. And such a torrent of passionate declarations, I had to take cover.

I should be so lucky.

Dig's pushed off to Central Asia to lecture people about commas. So the closest I get to a sweet nothing is a Skype call that makes Dig's voice sound like a rubber band. No flowers, no card. No diamond cluster. Nothing. And when it comes to a romantic meal I nipped out to the chippy for the children.

Tiger's got this idea that when daddy's away and we're running back from swimming, starving, having missed lunch, that we stop at our local chippy. I think we've done this twice, because we're usually back after it's shut. But today we were back early, and Tiger wasn't going to give up on this demand. Cue big argument in the back of the car because Squirrel says she doesn't like chips and wants pasta. Shark starts chanting 'CHIPS! CHIPS!' at the top of her voice as a way of presenting her point of view in the argument. So we reach a compromise. I'll cook pasta and fetch chips.

What a Valentine's Day. An outing to the swimming pool. And a trip to the chippy. It's days like this that I need the tin containing the cooking chocolate that I've got stashed away in the office cupboard.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007


Tiger's cut her own hair. Dig was in charge, while I went off to Tesco. In mitigation, he was doing his usually frantic last half-hour pack to get to the airport. So paying attention to children probably wasn't high on his agenda.

Mind, he didn't notice last time either, when I was out doing the charity shops on a Saturday afternoon. Then he was supposed to be with them all day long for some daddy-daughter time. He'd crept back into the office. Tiger, at a loose end, and with a pair of scissors in her hand, went and did something about an annoying lock of hair. Well, several locks, actually. And mostly on one side of her head.

I was quite calm that time, when I walked in and was greeted by someone with tufts of hair sticking out over their left ear. I was sort of expecting it. Shark had cut her hair just the week before, and that time I handled it badly. I was walking into the kitchen with a pile of laundry when I saw Shark's hair. I screamed, dropped all the laundry and shouted 'Oh my God! What have you done!' I couldn't help it, it was awful. Bits were sticking up all over her head where she'd grabbed chunks of hair and hacked them off. Of course it was just the wrong thing to say too. Shark's face crumpled in dismay and then everyone burst into tears. So I had to backtrack and make a big thing about how difficult it is to cut your own hair and let's go down to the market square and find out why hairdressers exist.

So Tiger now has a very short fringe. Extremely short. I've tried to even it out a bit, but it's hard, when the hair is about 3mm from where it grows. I've been looking at it a lot, and I've persuaded myself it looks quite edgy, and suits her personality. It's the contrast between the bit which says 'mess with me and you'll be sorry' and the long curly locks on either side of her face. If I stare at it any longer, I might just be tempted to give myself this trendy look. Modern, geometric, low maintenance. Starting to sound ideal. And Tiger's delighted with it. So I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and remembering that even Vidal Sassoon had to start somewhere.

Monday, 12 February 2007


The garage knocked twenty quid off and sent a bloke round to pick me up. I should think so too, after work of £750. I'd booked the car into the garage today for a 50,000 mile service, which I suspected would throw up a few things that needed sorting before the MOT.

And quite a few things were thrown up and needed sorting. Like the brake pads. There weren't any. No discs, either, unless you count the slice of metal that one mechanic called out had the thickness of a postage stamp. That explains the squealing noise when I do the emergency stop routine outside the house. There's so much squealing inside the car I probably didn't hear it for the first three months.

Then the exhaust was dropping off. I sort of knew about that, because of the speed humps. There's always a bang-bang-clunk coming from under the car when I drive over them. And I knew about the dent in the back with two smashed indicator covers. That's where some fool parked a lorry behind me and I reversed into it. Then the car's starting to burn oil. I didn't know about that. The side mirror's cracked. I knew about that one. And someone's pinched the spare wheel from under the car. I didn't know about that. Perhaps the local dodger took it the same time as the hub caps, two of which disappeared one night.

It all added up to quite an expensive day. Me and Dig have a policy about this. We shrug our shoulders, pay up, and cost out the car over the year. When it's too expensive to run or repair, we take it down the garage and trade it for something cheaper.

The last car we took to the garage was in a pretty desperate state. An electrical fault meant that the windows would wind down and up on their own accord. The buttons didn't respond to me. I just had to park it with the windows down. Sometimes the windows would be up when I got back. Sometimes I'd park it with the windows up, and they'd be down when I got back. Not surprisingly the local dodger was delighted, and nicked the tax disc. The police were frequent callers.

I was glad to see the back of it. By the time we'd finished with it, it was a work of art, inside and out. Squirrel had taken a piece of gravel and drawn a picture of a penguin on the paintwork. And the inside of the car was like the bottom of a skip. I never had time to clear it out, loading and unloading triplets everyday. They ate, slept, and used the potty in it.

So taking passengers was unfortunate. It was awkward when The Hat got in. I'd taken the kids to a local safari park with a plastic tub of cooked pasta pieces, curled in tomato sauce, for them to chew on the journey. When they'd had enough I put the tub in the passenger footwell, and forgot about it. Over the days it got covered up with plastic bags, newspapers, empty drink cartons, tissues. Then the whole lot slid about and the lid came off the pasta tub. When The Hat got in, she put her feet on what she thought was an old newspaper and they went straight through to the pasta. That was difficult.

I can't say the present car is in much better state. I try to keep it a bit cleaner inside, although rotting bananas seem to be a usual find. Biscuits have been ground into the carpet, and get covered over with apple juice and vomit. If we leave it, the mould starts and I have to get out the paint scraper.

But at least we have a roadworthy car. So if I smash into something, hopefully the insurance will be valid, and I won't have to pay out thousands, be declared bankrupt or go to prison when I can't pay. Phew. £750. It's starting to sound like a bargain. If only they'd thrown in a valet service as well, everything would be great.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Books, toilet, mirror

It's a day of progress. I've been picking up books from their usual position on the floor in the front room and stacking them on shelves. I feel like I'm doing the equivalent of reclaiming land. I can see the dark brown wood of the floor on the front room. Amazing.

And if that wasn't enough for a Sunday, I've cleared the sofa in the new bedroom of books as well, and stacked them up against the wall where the bookcase would be, if there was one. We can actually sit on the sofa for the first time in three months. I've been so elated I've been hovering around all day on ebay, shouting out bids on faux fur sofa throws.

All this industry is clearly infectious for Dig. He's bought a new toilet pump and installed it. Quite frankly, this is amazing. I had to lie down on the sofa I'd cleared. Usually, Dig's very good at the research, a bit slower on the purchase, and grinds to a halt on the installation. Whatever he's bought, or promised to mend, replace, renew, or fix to the wall, lies around on the floor, if it can find the room, for anything up to 15 years. After that I take it down the tip, freecycle it, or smash it by accident after tripping over it for the eight thousandth time. So for Dig to buy and install something in the same 24 hours is literally unheard of.

Let's hope the mirror suddenly goes the same way as the toilet pump. For not only has Dig gone and bought a toilet pump (and installed it), he's also bought a mirror with light fitting in a box behind it. This is destined for the downstairs bathroom. We carved out the downstairs bathroom from the old cellar in 1992, and since 1992 I've been staring at a wire that comes out of the bathroom wall where a light fitting should be. Fourteen years, staring at a wire that comes out the wall. Well, Dig has finally bought a mirror, with a light fitting behind, to go on the end of the wire.

But sadly, unlike the toilet pump, the mirror with a light behind is taking its usual progress. Dig gets the mirror out of the box and then sees there's a problem. Well, several, actually. First there's the wire itself. After nearly 15 years he can't remember anything about the wire. Does it have an earth on it? Which circuit is it on? Is it connected to the trip? That last question is a key one for me, since electricity has an uncanny knack of finding me out, and electrocuting me. All these questions require a lot of poking about in cupboards under stairs and a lot of tentative examination of the wire with a special lighty-up screwdriver.

Then the wire's not long enough to reach the point where it needs to enter the back of the mirror. Or it's too long, or it's at the wrong place. All of these possibilities need to be examined before Dig can go any further. Then he discovers that the hole to insert the wire into the box containing the light fitting is at the bottom. Oh dear. Our wire's at the top of the wall. We can't turn the whole box containing the light fitting upside down, because we'd make a fire hazard, apparently. The wire can't simply be brought down behind the box containing the light fitting because there's not enough space between the wall and the box. Then Dig considers drilling through the metal casing of the box to pull the wire through on the inside, but then it won't be watertight. And Dig's going to have to drill a very big hole. He's not sure he can do that.

By evening, all our progress has come to a stop. The wire's still sticking out of the bathroom wall. Dig's put back the bit of insulating tape to stop me electrocuting myself again. And the mirror, plus box containing light fitting, is in pieces, on the floor in the bedroom. This is where it's going to live for a little while until Dig can do some more thinking. I've pushed the whole lot under the bed so I don't trip over it, or drop something over it and smash it.

However, while most household and DIY objects in this state can lie around on the floor for several years, the mirror with a light fitting behind it won't have that luxury. As part of our household move around, I'm planning on taking the bed that's protecting it to the tip in about two weeks time and turning this room into the childrens playroom. So now the pressure's on. The clock's ticking. Dig will have to see this project through. I'll keep you informed.

Saturday, 10 February 2007


I'm still moving furniture and boxes around the house for our ever-impending move upstairs. Today I've devoted the entire day to box-moving and box-sorting, and it takes a very long time.

First I get the boxes out of the bedroom cupboard and look at them, arrayed like visible blocks of years, stacked up on the floor. I choose one box. It's heavy-duty cardboard, squat, and covered in dust. Gingerly, I open the flaps. There's the first layer. A Christmas card from 1992 with a twee picture of a cottage draped in snow. I'm not throwing it away. It has my mother's handwriting in, and she's dead. I put it to one side on the bed, in the 'keep' pile. I don't know why I'm keeping it, either.

In the next layer down there's a round wicker basket, holding tangled knick knacks of fake gold and silver jewellery that I liked to think looked pretty fashionable in 1984. The basket dates from 1972. Ang gave it me for a birthday present. It had a make-your-own-bracelet kit inside. I don't know what happened to the lid.

I poke about some of the jewellery with a finger. I could never wear any of this stuff. Three items go immediately in the 'throw away' pile; a single earring, a fuse, and a nail. Then out of the basket I take two bracelets and a bizarre beaded necklace with wooden spikes along it and make a new pile: the 'dressing up' pile. One silver and blue necklace in the basket makes me think of pretty girls and a suntanned slender neck, so I put it in the 'ebay' pile. Along with a silver necklace bought by a boyfriend, long gone, who probably now has 2.4 children and lives in Surrey with a fragrant wife. Then I take that one out of the 'ebay' pile and put it in the 'keep' pile, along with a silver necklace from my 18th birthday. The clasp's broken, and one day I'll get it mended.

Next into the 'keep' pile goes a pair of earrings I wore once, to the opera with Dig, before we were married and these things were possible. As does a huge gold-effect bracelet with knobbly bits on that I bought at a craft fair, and a beautiful necklace given by a friend. I don't wear it much because it's too beautiful. Last in the 'keep' pile is a rosebud locket, given to me when I was aged 8, and a bridesmaid. I've saved it so long now, it seems a shame to throw it away, although no-one but an eight-year old could wear it.

Once accumulated, all the jumble of 'keep' items go back in the wicker basket without a lid. There doesn't seem to much in the 'dressing up', 'ebay', or 'throw away' pile, so I promise myself I'll come back and reconsider the contents of the wicker basket, at some later date.

The next layer down is easier. There's a jam jar with a masonary nail in it. That goes immediately in the 'keep' pile. And I take out the nail from the 'throw away' pile and put that in the jam jar too. Along with the fuse. I'm always looking for nails, and a jam jar seems a very sensible place to keep them. Then there's a silk hat, shaped like a cat, bought as a souvenir from China, and Squirrel's first ballet shoes. Both have to go into the 'keep' pile.

At the bottom of the box there's some curtain hooks. These might come in handy, so I leave them there. And on top of them I place the jam jar with the nails and the fuse, the cat hat souvenir from China, Squirrel's first ballet shoes, the wicker basket without a lid holding the tangle of jewellery and, finally, the Christmas card. Then I close the flaps again. As I'm doing it, I'm thinking 'I must sort out these boxes so everything's in the right place.' Then, just for now, I put the squat box back in the cupboard as the place I've designated to keep sorted-out boxes.

Then I have a count-up. It's taken forty-five minutes to sort out that box and I have another six to go. This box-sorting takes a long time.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Cherry lattice pie

It doesn't have an auspicious start. The snow is still here. And I can't see down the end of the road thanks to the freezing fog. But today is art and craft. And not just that, but someone coming to the home ed group to talk about bandages and heart attacks. I'm very reluctant to miss that. The girls have been working towards it all week. They've been finding out about medicine in the fourteenth century. I thought that might be an interesting way to show off to the St John's ambulance man. We know all about flagellants and fleas. I can imagine my ladies being such knowledgeable and attentive nurses-to-be about 14th century cures that the St John's ambulance man would be delighted to come back and show them how to bandage each other up.

So when I get out of bed, I hover about every window in the house, peering out at the cold and snow and fog, willing it to clear. I'm peeping out behind the front door, still in my pyjamas, when the postman comes up the path with Squirrel's secret birthday present, all packaged up. I think that's quite lucky. If any of the princesses intercept the parcels, I'm done for. But postee's obviously suspicious. He suspects me of spying on him again. It's not my fault. Dig started that. I've told him that it scares the postees. Jumping out at them, wearing no trousers, claiming to be reading the newspaper behind the door. It would upset anybody.

By 10 o'clock I've hovered enough. I have to make the inevitable decision. With no MOT and a journey across a snow-locked countryside I have to give up my vision of my three little nurses explaining 600-year old medical practices in detail to the St John's ambulance man. With the snow falling again outside, I wonder what we can do.

Shark saves the day. She's been asking to make a cherry lattice pie ever since she saw one at Tesco and I refused to buy it thanks to the lack of cherries, the E-numbers and the two month shelf-life. But now we've got a fridge full of unethical cherries, and I have to get rid of them.

Now just let me say here that I do not buy cherries out of season. Especially cherries laden with air miles, hand picked by the exploited, shrink-wrapped in plastic, and flown half way across the globe, destroying glaciers in their wake. Unless they are 10p a half kilo in Tesco at fruit and veg mark-down time. Then they are a bargain.

In no time at all, Shark's mastered the pitting stick on the garlic press and is squirting cherry stones across the kitchen table at Tiger. Thirty minutes later she's up to her armpits in flour and crashing about with the rolling pin. I'm hovering about again, this time trying to contain the snowfall of flour. Stupidly, I offer to move her pastry for her on the marble board. This sends her into a rage of 'Leave me alone! I know what I'm doing!' I've learned my lesson. It's time to back off. If she ever meets Gordon Ramsay, he'd be wise to do the same.

By the time she's finished, the place looks like a bloodbath. The red juice from the cherries has stained so deep into the kitchen table I think we'll have to look at it forever. Shark's got red stains all up her arms, on her face, and all over her apron. She looks like Sweeny Todd. Pastry bits are sticking to the undersoles on my shoes. Added to the cherry blood I feel I'm standing on some sort of slippery gut which squishes when I walk.

The uncooked pie looks very promising. Apart from Shark's lattice effect, whch has gone a bit wonky. The lattice bits resemble bandages in length and they're piled up over the cherries in a blob where they got tangled up. Shark thinks they're wonderful, and I lie, and say they look very good too. I wrestle the oven door down with my foot, which is extra difficult today thanks to the slippery pastry on the undersoles, and in goes the cherry lattice pie.

After mother's disappointing lunch of stir fried vegetables, red kidney beans and cous cous, out comes Shark's wonderful pie. And it is wonderful. We even make custard to honour it.

So I'm counting today as a great success. Because although we never got to be nurses, explain the plague, or offer to bandage anyone up, we did get to eat cherry lattice pie until our tummies hurt.

Thursday, 8 February 2007


I hate snow. It brings out the Mrs Grimly in me. I think it all started with an unpleasant experience in a snowball fight between some local kids when I was aged about eight. Some revolting little git called Rob threw a snowball at me with a stone at its heart. The impact raised a lump on my head the size of a golf ball. I lost enthusiasm for the snowball fight then, but I made sure I threw a few rocks in Rob's direction after that. I didn't bother with the snow, either.

Then all the horrors of this violence dressed up as harmless fun came back to visit me as an adult. For some crazy, unfathomable set of reasons, I was teaching in a school from hell where I had to cross the playground to use the staff loo. Not likely. It would have been certain death out there in that battleground. When it snowed the kids lined up like some reenactment from the somme.

And the kids round here aren't much better. Last year the snowballs were crashing round the house thanks to some local teenagers taking pot shots at the kitchen windows. A few years ago they scored jackpot and smashed one. So I don't play nice back. Last year when the snowballs started I called the police. They suggested keeping the kitchen lights off and calling again to avoid the confrontation or the blood that might follow if I asked the youths to stop throwing snowballs at the house.

Shark, Tiger and Squirrel adore it all, of course. With a garden like Narnia they're up, dressed and out in five minutes after waking. For them, it's all excitement and delight, and lots of play in the back garden where it's safe, and it's 'let's make snow unicorns'. The snow unicorns have to lie down because the snow's not good for fat unicorn bellies hanging between unicorn legs. I have to coax everyone in for breakfast. Immediately they're back out again. By lunchtime they've made giant snowballs, grown red toes and red noses, gone through six pairs of gloves, and found umpteen things to stick in the snow like lollypop sticks, pipecleaners, coal, carrots and beads. Watching them, they almost persuade me, by their intense work with this pure and perfect modelling stuff, free from the sky, that it is all wonderful and beautiful, and a perfect and lovely experience.

It must have got to me. I'm even indulgent with the disorder of their play that slowly builds up around me. I have another snowman's head in the freezer and Squirrel has taken to building snow unicorns in the bath because her fingers are cold. Tiger has packed a tray with snow and brought it to the bedroom floor to examine it. Shark has piled up an enormous mound of the stuff on the doorstep, so we can barely get in and out.

After hours of happy, safe, unicorn play I get lulled into a false sense of security and potter off out of the front garden gate to see how deep the snow is around the car. I'm scraping the snow gently off the windscreen and it's dry and clean, bouncing off into the road like thousands of soundless polystrene bubbles, when I'm conscious that above my head there's a precisely aimed snowball, growing bigger, coming slowly and silently down at me from the sky. I'm holding an empty wine box, don't ask why, so I raise it up like a shield and stop this thing blasting apart on my head. Then I see some revolting kid legging it down the road. Local kid. Not my kid.

That's it. That's the end of the snow fun. I can hear Mrs Grimly inside me threatening the police and wanting to shake her fist. Now I'm reminded I'll be back on kitchen guard duty until this wretched stuff melts. And I can't tell Shark, Tiger and Squirrel why I can't join in again. Is it any wonder I hate the stuff.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007


Shark doesn't make swimming any easier. We're late out of the house today because of a towel.

Shark can't use a dark blue towel, apparently. It has to be a light blue towel. Oh dear. Tiger's picked up the light blue towel and got in the car with it. Shark goes bonkers.

After ten minutes I abandon Shark in the house while I fetch petrol. When I get back she's sitting on the stairs clutching the dark blue towel. It has threads hanging off it where she's bitten it. And it has a strange shape. It looks suspiciously like she's strangled it. I get her in the car. Tiger, seeing her arrive, and probably fearing that Shark's about to draw blood, jettisons the light blue towel out the car door as we set off, somewhat complicating the towel negotiations later at the swimming pool.

We miss twenty minutes of the swimming lesson. Fish, our swimming teacher, who is probably one of the kindest women on the planet, runs the lesson on for us, so the girls don't miss so much. Shark, who's cheered up enormously once she's in the water, looks like she's over the towel incident, and I'm thinking I could just manage to get through the day.

But then we have the towel trauma all over again in the cubicle. Shark locks herself in. She doesn't smash the cubicle up this time, so we're making progress, but she refuses to get dressed. I point out that she might have to walk to the car in her swimming costume and that the temperature outside now is minus 3. She says she doesn't care. After 30 minutes I say I don't care either right now and go off to wait in the car.

It takes 50 minutes to get Shark out of the cubicle. She sat and waited until she drip-dried so she didn't have to touch the dark blue towel. It's thrown out the cubicle anyway, and it's lying, bitten, strangled and beaten, in a puddle of swimming pool water.

So I can add this to my weekly list of things to remember and do: don't cross Shark on Wednesdays, and hide the light blue towel.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Angry and indignant

Art with Hitler. This is not a good experience for me. It brings back bad memories. I've suggested dropping these lessons. But we'll keep going so long as Shark, Tiger or Squirrel say they get anything from them. Shark says she likes the art but not Teech. Tiger says she likes the art and doesn't take any notice of Teech. Squirrel says she thinks Teech is trying to show them how to be a schoolie.

In art lessons, Teech is in charge. Teech takes a register. Then it's all, 'Now listen to me. Me, Me, Me.' She tells the kids what to do and what lines to paint where. And in what colour. So they do. They put the lines just where she says, and in the colour she says. And I sit there seething. I think every time they do what Teech says, they're not learning about art, or what their materials can do, or what colours can do, or lines, or shapes. They're learning how to be obedient to Teech.

Squirrel puts up a little bit of rebellion. She says, 'I'm making my line a bit curvy, and Teech said straight.'
'The curvy line looks really good' I say. Then that gets me feeling more rebellious, so I wait till Teech is close by and I say again, 'I like this curvy line. It stops all these straight lines from being very boring.'

Then I get angry because now I am petty, mean minded and reduced to using Squirrel's art to make sniping comments. Then that makes me feel even more rebellious, and I start wanting to make snorty noises at inappropriate moments. If I do, Teech will say I am disrupting the lesson and send me out the room to stand in the corridor.

I could be good at being disruptive in the classroom. I have a lot of experience of it, and I've been taught by some of the best practitioners of the art. Some of my lessons have been undermined by masterful performances. First I'd start off with the hissing, at such a low volume that Teech can't tell where it's coming from, so she has to walk around the room, like I once had to, slightly leaning with an ear inclined, to pick up the direction and the culprit. Which already looks pretty foolish, but probably less foolish than shouting out 'Stop hissing!'

If I didn't do the hissing, I would do scraping the chair legs back and forward across the floor whenever Teech tried to talk. Or loud coughing. That would get a laugh. Or I could do what several kids tried in my career, and that's to lie flat on the floor. Perhaps across the doorway, or under a desk, or by the board. Then don't say anything, don't move, don't respond. That's the key to success.

Of course this is all low-level disruption compared to the really classy stuff which I would have to have the right mentality for. I could try a rerun of throwing the hammer, brandishing the fake gun, being drugged out, or shouting 'I'm a dinosaur' before picking up Teech's chair and throwing it at the wall.

By the end of Teech's art lesson I'm angry and indignant, and not in a good mood.

Or I could be just jealous. At some point this week, in a moment of madness, I'll attempt to get Shark, Tiger and Squirrel to sit down, stay quiet, and look at a book together, or draw a picture, or do some maths. And I'll be rounding them up from behind the sofa, from under the tables, down the bottom of the garden, from bedrooms and bathrooms. And when everyone's together we'll all look at each other and I'll say, 'Shall we do some work on Persia then?' And the answer will come, 'No', before they all run off.

But there's consolation. At least they don't have to do the hissing.

Monday, 5 February 2007


My first experience today is failure, so it's not a good start. I'd planned to drive the kids off to a not-local museum to check out their Egyptian collection. We don't go. This is thanks to a sudden conscious-raising moment over my first cup of coffee. The car has no MOT.

In fact the car hasn't had an MOT since September. I've been driving around, as happily as anyone can drive around with fighting triplets in the back, having completely forgotten this small but essential legal requirement. But now I know the car has no MOT, every journey is a disaster waiting to happen.

The first thing to happen will be that I'll have an accident. I'll drive into the world's only 20-cylinder Porsche race car which just happens to be parked outside our local Co-op because it's being driven to a secret Porsche research location and the driver needs some cheese. I know it sound unlikely, but stranger things can happen. My insurance will be invalidated of course because I am driving an unroadworthy vehicle without an MOT. We'll have a repair bill of £25 million which we won't be able to pay. I'll have to go to prison.

By the second cup of coffee I'm wishing I was some sort of lady gangster who dealt with these circumstances on a daily basis. By the third cup of coffee I'm wondering if I could make a career out of being a lady gangster and whether there was anyone I know who could sell me a gun to get me started. Then there'd have to be a red dress, shoes and a new handbag, obviously.

'You could book it in at the garage' says Dig. I'm not sure if this is helpful. Dressed in a red sequin evening dress clutching a Dior handbag, I was just shooting my way out of jail. But fearing for my life in a vehicle without an MOT I ring the garage. The first time I call, the phone's answered quickly, but before I have a chance to say anything a voice at the other end shouts, 'I'll put you through to the right department' and the line goes dead. This is odd. I ring back. No answer. I try again and again. No answer. After two hours someone picks up the phone at the other end. Fearing they'll put it down again I shout 'I want an MOT!' There's silence at the other end, then a bloke with a very calm, slow voice says, 'All right then love, you can tell me about it. What car have you got?'

So now the car's booked in for next Monday. Which is failure number two. Next Monday is the Egyptian workshop at the not-local museum I wanted to go to today. Since today was about preparation and the start of a mini-Egyptian project, it sort of made home-ed sense for next week. And now both days are cancelled. But it has to be. Anyway, I'd look terrible in a red sequin dress, and I can't afford the Dior handbag. Unless of course, being a lady gangster, I can nick it.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Dining out

Here we all are, off to the local Indian restaurant, as a reward for being nice to each other yesterday, all day long. Well, nearly. Shark went bonkers last night about 9.30pm, bursting with the pressure, probably, and proceeded to smash up her room and lose £2.20. I made sure she gained it back this morning before 9.00, because I'd set the stupid rule that we had to have enough credit to justify the meal. So she got rewarded 50p for looking cute. Consistent parenting? Am I some sort of robot? Anyway, I was looking forward to this Sunday outing. It's the only time me and Dig get to go out together.

When we get there we get told off. Apparently we make a mess. Mahmud says that last time it took thirty minutes to clean up the table. And the floor. And the wall. So please could we try and keep the rice and mint yoghurt in one area this time. The children look defensively at the floor. I offer 30p for the cleanest floor, 20p for the middling mess, and 10p for the messiest miss.

The kids all know the script now at the buffet session, and they love it. Mostly the rice and the mint yoghurt. Within minutes they're tucking in to mountains of green rice and there's a widening pool of green rice grains around their chairs. To be honest, I don't worry that much. I've got no dignity left anywhere now, and when Mahmud comes clattering round with the dustpan and brush I smile and raise my eyebrows in a sort of 'kids will be kids' look. We tell the children that when they stop scattering food everywhere on the floor we can try a restaurant with carpets.

I consider the offer that came in the post yesterday. I have been invited, along with Dig, to A Posh Do. If I go I have to leave the children at home, being babysat with Aunty Dee. I'm in two minds. Going out with Dig and without children would be wonderful. But let's face it. First the invitation was probably an error, a throw up from an old, pre-children mailing list that The Corporation has muddled on its database. The events organiser will greet me with a crest-falling face when I show up.

If I go, I'll be immediately split up from Dig because someone in the office will think it's a good idea to split people up in the aid of networking. If we're not split up from the start, then within five minutes, some bloke in a suit will come over to Dig, who is big in the world of commas, and greet him with a great jolliness, saying, 'Do come over and meet SoandSo. He's very big in the world of dots.' If that doesn't happen, Dig will see the blokes who are big in speech marks, and abandon me to spend most of the evening discussing question marks.

Then someone will see me in a circle of my own and come over to introduce himself. I can imagine what he'll say, with growing awareness that I don't have any useful business connections for him, and with an increasing sense of urgency that he has to leave my company because he's wasting networking time. 'Oh, so you have children. Triplets. how interesting. Do excuse me, I've just seen Dig.'

In the middle of this awful social situation, the information that I'm a vegetarian will be lost, and a chicken kiev will be dumped in front of me. So I'll eat bread all night and try not to drink too much. If I do, I'll worry that I'll tell the man who's big in exclamation marks to shove off.

I look at the wooden floor, covered in green rice, and a green yoghurty stain making a slow progress down the wall behind Shark. Everyone gets 10p. Mahmud looks miserable. I attempt a smile in a sort of 'kids will be kids' way. I try and hold hands with Dig on the way home, but there are too many children. I'll consider the Posh Do. But in reality, I'd probably be happier being told off down at the local Indian.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Making an effort

By 9.30 in the morning, Shark has cracked the system. She gets 20p today for kind words, helpful deeds, and a sunny disposition. And she's using all her skills and strategies. 'You look nice!' she beams with a big broad smile when I appear wearing a battered old beige tee-shirt with a frayed hem and a hole in the side. 20p goes in her tin. 'Can I clear up?' she asks after breakfast. 20p. 'Can I load the washing machine?' she sings. 20p. 'Can I sweep the floor?' 20p. 'Can I help make lunch?' 20p. By midday 'Can I help you?' has rung out minute by minute to both her sisters, all in earshot. 'Have you got any 20ps left?' she asks, sweetly, at lunchtime, eyeing my purse.

But I can forgive her. This is an exercise in consciousness-raising and is giving me the chance to talk about how our behaviour impacts on each other, and how we are all responsible for creating a happy environment, and how we can stop to think everyday and choose our response to slights and insults, and consider whether they are given intentionally or not. I go further on that one and lie, and say there is a law about taking unnecessary offence. I think there should be anyway.

In fact I've been sounding like some moral crusader all morning. I really want those season park tickets. Which is where all our 20ps are destined for. We're each to have season tickets for the local theme park from April. I can see myself already, sitting on the 'Parents wait here' bench with the newspaper while the kids throw themselves about in the bouncy cave.

Shark, motivated by money in her tin, is lapping up today's reward and punish system. By lunchtime she's quids in, and still working hard. Secretly I'm getting a bit worn out with it all and consider going into the office and swearing a bit and kicking the recycling bin as a safeguard against becoming too nice. Instead I give everyone a 50p piece just for listening to me. Or in Tiger's case, appearing to.

Squirrel's a bit overwhelmed by Shark's niceness. And probably a bit suspicious. She gets an early fine of 5p for scowling, but then makes steady financial progress. She puts in some effort to stop the scowling, which leads to some face contorting, but puts her in credit at a rate of 5p every scowl-turned-smile. Mostly, she keeps out the way, turns up to the moral lessons to listen politely and heaves a lot of volume into shouting 'Please' and 'Thank you' even when it's not necessary, like just at the moment I'm wagging one finger to pronounce about the way we need to exercise self-control so we don't blurt out whatever we're thinking at that moment.

Tiger at least provides some welcome relief to my moral agenda. She's sulky from the off (fine 5p) and says she doesn't want to do this (fine 5p) sticks out her bottom lip (fine 5p) and pushes her cereal bowl around the table (fine 10p) but then she says she will do it (reward 20p) but she still doesn't expect to get anything in her tin for her theme park season ticket (fine 20p for being irritating and complaining, going on and on about it, instead of shutting up and humouring me and just doing it like everyone else) but then she promises to try (reward 20p for trying).

I'm determined to keep this up for 24 hours. In spite of Dig, who wanders in and out of the kitchen, where the exchequor is located, and half-heartedly adding 5p to the tallies when he thinks he's being watched. I consider putting him on today's reward system if he doesn't smile once in a while.

Soon we can all relax, Shark can say rude things, Tiger can pull hair, Squirrel can assault someone with the puffin, and I can shout 'Stop shouting!' on the stairs. But at least we'll have some cash in the bank for the season ticket to the theme park.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Big argument

There is a big argument. Everyone hates each other.

It starts because something upsets Squirrel. I don't know what. Some slight or thoughtless action, dealt early on by a triplet sister, who remains unaware and probably unconcerned that a wound's been made. Usually when there's a blow, it's obvious. There are cries of 'My sisters won't let me play with them' or 'I'm never playing with her ever again.' Or it will be straightforward insults: 'Shark smells.' 'Tiger's manky.' Squirrel has a big bum'. Then there are direct actions. Finger claws, hair pulls, kicks, slaps. But sometimes the wounds are made and not much noise is made after. Then the wounds are not resolved. And then they start to grow.

I know there's been fighting. And my deaf ears make Squirrel's wound worse. I won't listen. I'm determined to leave the house and arrive at the art and craft session with plenty of time for play. The thirty minutes before we get out the door I don't listen to anything. Shoes and bags and coats are flying, and a stream of words is coming out of my mouth. 'Get in the car. Stop whining. Are you wearing shoes. I can't find my keys. Put your shoes on the right feet. Get a bag. Don't tell me. I've lost my glasses. Bring a coat. Carry those. Put this on. Wait in the hall.' The words form a seamless flow and rise in volume the further the clock ticks on. I don't expect answers. I can't deal with questions. I don't want to hear tales of hurt or injury or problems. We're late. I get Shark and Tiger in the car, fighting over the arm rest.

But Squirrel's got a problem. And so begins our conflict.
Squirrel stands on the stairs, arms folded, not moving. 'Do you not want to go?' I shout, not looking for an answer, looking for movement.
'Yes' she huffs.
'Well come on then. Now.' I'm not talking any more. I'm shouting.
'You won't let me.'
I don't know how standing at the foot of the stairs shouting 'Get in the car now!' constitutes not allowing her. So I bark, 'Why not?'
'Because you don't love me,' comes the reply. I'd like to say it's sniffled sorrowfully or said with brimming eyes. But it's not. It's spat out with scorn and contempt like a challenge to a battle.

At this point I should have replied with a jumble of nonsense. 'Oh well, I would allow you in the car but it's full of puffins, so I'll strap you to the bonnet in a paper bag with the vegetable hot-pot and tie you on with a singing pink zebra. Is that ok?'

But I don't say that. I'm furious. I scream, I tear my hair, I hit my temples with my hands and scream in frustration again. At full volume I roar, 'Get in the car!' She doesn't move. So I turn and slam the door behind me.

If I had something accessible and inanimate at that point I'd probably kick it to bits. It would go the way of the kitchen bin which stood in the yard for 18 months waiting to go to the tip after I kicked it so hard the dents had dents.

In the car Shark and Tiger are still fighting over the arm rest. So I give them a hard time. We get petrol, I drive home, go in, slam the front door. I go out, unload Shark and Tiger, unpack the car, slam the front door again and shout at Dig. Shark goes off to hide, Tiger sobs and Squirrel's still defiant. After an hour I shout to everyone that we're going because I want to meet Jol afterwards. She's invited us to lunch, so we're going. 'Which means you have five minutes to get in the car', I order. Unbelievably, they all scamper in. Nobody utters a word on the journey.

We miss most of the art and craft. But afterwards, I do get to talk to Jol, while Shark, Tiger and Squirrel play with Am. It's therapeutic. When it's time to go home, no-one wants to leave. Jol is calm with everybody, cajoling and fun and never demanding or reprimanding. I promise myself I'll learn again from that. But I still won't be able to put it into practice everyday.

I have a memory of my mother, pushing me and Big Bro to fight it out together in the front room while she went into the kitchen and threw a plate at the wall. And the day she threatened to leave home if we didn't stop fighting. We didn't, she did. The house rattled empty without her while she sat at Mary's house, probably wanting to kick the sofa to bits, or sitting on it weeping. We filled her empty space with fists and insults. After a while, she returned and threatened to leave again if everyone continued fighting. I can't remember whether it made much difference. I regret it all. Me and Big Bro caused her so much heartache, and she forgave it all and said it probably didn't matter much in the end.

So at the end of this day, it probably won't matter much at all.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Thinking positively

Today I've done psychology, philosophy, and behavioural science.

The psychology has been for Shark. Shark has been very challenging and living up to her name. She swims about happily for days on end, chatting with the other fish and playing catch-the-pearl, and then, without warning, goes bonkers, takes great bites out of us all and smashes everything up.

Usually, on Shark-days, we have big, long, talks. And usually they start with Shark walloping her sisters. At the reprimand she offers a few sneering insults to her parents, accompanied by 'Ha! ha! ha!' and then screams at the full extent of her lungs until she's red in the face. At some point she'll shout 'I'm leaving this family!' and will pack her toy pelican, Pelly, and toy fish Angela, into a bag ready for the off. Then we'll talk about how the family needs to work together, how we all cooperate for our mutual benefit, about our anger management strategies and techniques of self-control, our responsibilities, expectations and power. Blah blah blah. After a while I get a bit fed up with the psychology and offer to pack a bag for her and drive her to the railway station.

Then there's the philosophy. This is mostly prompted by the clock. It's fourteen minutes to go before the start of the lesson we're supposed to be at, and we haven't yet left the house. An eight minute drive and a five minute change of clothes is required. I reason that if we don't leave the house PDQ we're going to be late. Again. So with my blood pressure getting critical I start thinking whether home education is really the best way to live. After all, with school, I just might get the frantic dash at 8.30 in the morning and the drag of sending Dig down to fetch everyone at 3.30.

This way, when I drop everyone back at home at 2.35, I reason I will just have time to make a cup of tea for the thermos flask (to 2.45), dash out of the house to pick up gold paper to make crowns for Henry III or Simon de Montfort (depending on our fancies and allegiances), and arrive back at 3.15 to pick up and drop off anyone who wants to go to French club. It's all just do-able but at 2.45 disaster strikes. I can't find my purse. This blow means I have to stare at the wall for a vital nine minutes, which renders the whole plan pointless. And no-one wants to go to French club anyway, which sends Dig into a loud philosophical frenzy of 'What is the point of home education?' Dig has to do his philosophising on this subject while striding up and down waving a finger in the air.

Next there's the behavioural science. I've spent some of the day planning this. Thanks to Shark's psychology and the philosophising while staring at the wall, I reckon that we are all motivated by food and money. I'm planning that on Saturday, every act will be rewarded or punished by money in the piggy bank. If any sister is pleasant or helpful to any other sister, there's 20p in the piggy bank. Then if there are scowls or horrid words, hair pulling, threats of violence, physical attacks, unicorn bashing, insults to parents and so on, there's a naughty note of -20p in the piggy bank. And on Sunday morning we have a count up. If we have more coins than naughty notes, Dig will take us all to the Indian restaurant that doesn't have carpets for a buffet lunch. I haven't cleared that bit with Dig yet, but I'm quite looking forward to it all, and will let you know how it all goes.