Monday, 30 April 2007


We are all off to a home ed workshop on clay.

So for about an hour beforehand I'm getting everyone ready. It's 'Sasha, comb Tiger's hair', then 'Sasha, bring Squirrel downstairs to put on her shoes', and 'Sasha help Shark get up from the floor where she is lying down screaming thanks to Tiger having trodden on her'. Honestly, this au pair thing is hard work and I may well have had a nose full.

Next on the agenda is actually getting to Middletown. There are no road closures or spilled liquid petroleum. I am wise and I have put petrol in the car. There is not a hurricane like the day we decided to visit Kenilworth castle. Sasha did not burst into tears and there were no fisticuffs in the back seats. Even better, when we arrive, we see Am and Jol in the playground. So everyone is excited and happy. Personally, I cannot believe our luck. We have got here early, without casualty, and Sasha might think this is normal.

We're not early enough. Within minutes we're all off inside to find out about Rodin but not the naughty bits. I get rid of Sasha. I say, 'Sasha you could walk into town for an hour, there's not much here apart from a lot of home educated children, some clay, and Rodin without the naughty bits. So off you go and enjoy the sunshine.' What I really want to say is 'Sasha, push off so I can have your seat and get in some tip-top quality chat time with Jol.' Of course I do not say that because even I am on my bestest behaviour with Sasha now.

The first downturned lips come where there is a bit of a fight over who gets to sit opposite Am. Jol is right on form and solves this thanks to incredibly quick thinking and rearranging people and furniture, so everyone gets sorted. Then Rodin and the clay work begin.

After looking at pictures of Rodin's work but no naughty bits, everyone's invited to do something interesting with clay. Shark immediately starts off making the stem of a rose. Unfortunately, it looks like a giant phallus and looks like we might have studied Rodin's naughty bits at home, which we haven't, but hey, this is the home ed world, and people expect anything. So I let it be known that it is a rose stem. That's a rose stem that Shark is making. A lovely stem for a rose. She's going to put the petals on later. See, she's making the petals now.

Apart from this minor difficulty, clay procedes quite well. Squirrel starts making a bird but its head keeps dropping off. Tiger makes a horse, because Tiger is into horses big time. She hasn't fallen off yet on the horseriding lessons, so we might see a change of heart when she does.

Then, disaster. I can see Shark wanting to scream. She goes all stiff and red in the face, her mouth clamps together in a thin hard line, and little tears pop onto her cheeks. I have told Shark not to scream in public because it is embarrassing and everyone stares. Shark has a long history of screaming in public places. I think her best screaming has been done on the corner of Winston Road and Gurney Lane when the residents came out to look at the five-year old rolling about in the gutter hanging onto a bicycle. I could choose that as the top scream, or it might be the lamp-post incident last week, or perhaps the library. Whatever, she's under caution. I have told her that if she screams again in public I will sell her for medical experiments.

Shark wants to scream because her petals won't stay on the phallus-rose-stem. In fact the phallus-rose-stem is starting to droop and will never hold the weight of twelve petals made from about a half kilo of air-hardening clay. Every time a new petal gets squished into the top, the phallus-rose-stem buckles a bit more and Shark becomes more despairing. But now Jol is involved and has her second most helpful moment of the day. 'Put a stick in it' she suggests. This is brilliant and I leg it into the garden to locate a real bit of rose stem to skewer down the centre of Shark's clay. Success! This works. The downside is that the phallus-rose-stem is bigger than ever and starting to command attention. I start to worry about the police and social services dropping by later and am very grateful when the clay teacher suggests lowering a plastic bag over it and putting it in the car for the drive home.

I think all the niceness of Sasha's visit and the creative tension from the artists at the Rodin workshop had to explode somewhere. And it did. On the way back to Smalltown there was a lot of screaming and a very big bout of fisticuffs in the back of the car, followed by a lot of shouting from mummy Grit, and a frozen smile from Sasha, who didn't object one bit when I suggested dropping her off at the airport two hours early.

But now we can go back to normal. Sasha's gone, there's a clay phallus in a plastic bag next to Tiger's clay horse, which she says she hates because it has a nose like a sheep, and here's Squirrel's headless bird. The head is rolling about on a plastic tray, and already I've promised we can fix it tomorrow, if we get time.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Pink seals

Now here's a bizarre moment in a turbulent day.

It's Sunday afternoon, sometime after lunch. I knock on a stranger's door. The door opens. A tall man with grey hair and a weathered face appears in a hall filled with boxes and coats and magazines, stacked to waist height. He leans against the wall, holding a can of lager.

I smile and say, 'Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you, but there's a pink seal in your garden.'

I bet he was expecting Jehovah's Witnesses or the bailiffs, so I reassure him by holding up an identical pink seal. 'It's a lot like this one' I add.

I hold up a small furry pink seal on a silver ribbon and for a moment we both watch it twirling round in the air. Mr Tall is having a bit of difficulty focusing. 'Hang on a minute' he says with a voice that's slightly slurred. Within a moment he produces from behind the door a squeaky Eeyore. 'Is this his friend?' he says, smiling.

'It could be' I say. 'Would you mind having a look in your garden for me? His name's Sealy.' I point down at Squirrel who's doing her best to hide behind the drainpipe outside the front door, and managing quite well.

'How did Sealy get in the garden?' he asks, taking a sip from his can.

'He was taking his first flying lesson.' I can hear Squirrel giggle and whisper 'It wasn't his first flying lesson mummy. He's been doing it all up the street.'

Mr Tall smiles hazily at Squirrel and disappears into the gloom of the hall. A few moments later he returns, with a furry pink seal twirling on a silver ribbon.

'There's a problem', he says, holding up the seal, just out of Squirrel's reach.

'What might that be?' I say.

'He's eaten all my fish' says Mr Tall, guffawing, lowering Sealy down to Squirrel's reach and steadying himself against the doorframe.

By the time me and Squirrel emerge with Sealy, the street ahead is empty. Dig has scarpered, taking Sasha, Tiger and Shark off home. He probably thinks that Sasha has had enough trouble in Smalltown now, what with last night's Saturday night streetfights, the insistence of this morning's police sirens, the screams of fighting triplets since breakfast, and Mahmud sweeping the floor around us in our local Indian restaurant on Sunday buffet time. Dig probably thinks that a punch up with the neighbour over a fluffy pink seal is perhaps one bit of local flavour she could do without.

Dig, you just have to remember that the neighbours are fine, and no matter how bizarre the request, just smile.

Saturday, 28 April 2007


Sasha has arrived. Sasha is aged 19, German, and very quiet. In fact she is so quiet that I have to lean towards her to hear what she is saying. Consequently she leans away from me and I lean towards her a bit further. Since this is not a good state of affairs and I suspect neither of us is comfortable with this posture, I have told her that I am a bit deaf and asked her to shout.

It would be rather interesting to have a shouty German teenager in the house, but even Sasha's shout is quiet, so now we have a quietly shouting German teenager in the house. Sasha also waits to be told to do anything, like sit down, or eat something, or put down luggage. So I am constantly saying 'Sasha, put your luggage down. Sasha, drink a glass of fruit juice. Sasha, take a bread roll. Sasha, chew the bread roll'. OK, not that last one, but I'm not counting it out just yet. There are two more days before she goes home.

I am sure she cannot be like this back in Heidelberg. I am sure at home she charges about the house, blundering into walls drunk at 2am, slamming the bathroom door shut, shouting 'I didn't ask to be born!' as she crashes upstairs, screaming 'You fat cow!' to her 15-year old sister and generally behaving very obnoxiously (all in German, obviously). I hope she is badly behaved in Heidelberg, because bad behaviour is what I'm anticipating will be the teenage interaction between Grit, Dig, Squirrel, Shark and Tiger, and if it's not, I'm going to think our offspring are not normal.

But Sasha is not only very quiet and very well behaved. Sasha does not even seem to need to use the toilet. I keep sending Squirrel to show Sasha various toilets around the house, because after seven hours I become worried that Sasha is either desparate for a wee, too polite to ask where the toilet is, or that Sasha is another-dimensional entity like one of David Icke's shape-shifting reptilians who perhaps still do not need to use the toilet after two glasses of mixed fruit juice and three cups of green tea.

All of this quiet demeanour and good behaviour has had a strange effect on Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. They've all been on best-presentation-mode all day long, full of 'pleases' and 'thank yous', and they have all said they would like to learn German, even though we do not know anything at all, except that I have asked Sasha to teach me the German for, 'Where is the bathplug?' and 'I have had a nose-full of this'.

By evening, we have all smiled so much our facial muscles hurt and we have had a non-shouty day full of niceness. So I am quite relieved that Sasha has decided to retire. I have had to say 'Sasha, would you like to go to bed now?' because I have been worried that unless I ask she might sit up all night on the sofa.

And this is all because we have invited Sasha over to see if she can cope with being in a house of screaming triplets enough to come back and be an au pair here in August when she is on her college holiday. Well, the Grit and Dig family is just not representative today. We will have to hope that tomorrow Squirrel wakes up in a bad mood and that Shark accuses Tiger of stealing her tiara. And then we'll throw squabbling triplets at Sasha while me and Dig leave the room to see if she can cope. As I close the door behind us, I could ask, 'Sasha, can you cope?' and that would probably help her decide about how she could spend her August vacation.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Setting up the wormery

Dig is in Finland, the house is a tip, and sitting all together in the schoolroom, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger decide to set up a wormery.

'Can we set it up in here?' asks Shark, brightly. I don't think she quite appreciates what this involves, so I let her in on the mechanics of the thing and tell her that an inevitable part of a wormery is the worm.

There's silence while the comprehension takes place. Then everyone scatters. Tiger's having nothing to do with it and legs it out the door down to the bottom of the garden. She shouts she'll only come back if she can put a layer of sand in the wormery, but there had better be no worms in it then, or else. From the safety of the bathroom Shark says she'll put in some mud for the worm, so long as I get the worm. Peeping behind the curtain, Squirrel is bravest of all and says that with the pointy end of her paintbrush she will collect leaves for the top of the wormery and she will look for worms.

After about half an hour of pouring soil and sand in the plastic wormery, and Squirrel poking the ground and turning over leaves with her paintbrush, I lead them to the deduction that the worms must have sussed that we are hunting them and have all burrowed into the ground. I can only ask the question, 'Who would like to dig the soil over and look for worms?' Strangely, I get no volunteers, so I get out the big mummy shovel and off we go. The sight of mummy Grit digging is quite a focus point, and there's a lot of rummaging around looking for buckets and plastic spades and, despite the squeamishness, some attempt at joining in.

But we're not very successful. The first worms we find get sliced in two by an over-hasty digging Grit. There's a lot of peering into holes, squealing, and a lot of running off down the bottom of the garden whenever a wriggling half-worm is spotted.

Then, success! We get one! In Squirrel's bucket it goes. Squirrel is being very brave and rolls it around her bucket trying to get it on the end of her plastic shovel. After it's been scraped along the side of the bucket a few times it's looking a distinctly odd shape. Neverthless, she's got it, and in the wormery it drops. It never moves again. I tell her I think it must be having a long sleep thanks to the excitement of being hunted.

Then, more digging. Success! We find a worm for Shark! I drop it into the bucket for her to get out and drop in the wormery. Shark manages to get it on the end of her plastic spade and then, horror of horror, it wiggles. This is its fatal mistake. Shark screams in terror and jerks the spade upwards. Through the air, in a graceful arc, sails the worm. Since I'm standing in its landing path, I do the mature thing which is to scream and run away. This probably doesn't help anyone overcome their squeamishness about wriggly worms but at that point I don't care. I say I'm not coming back until everyone puts the plastic shovels down.

Well it takes another two hours, but now we have a wormery. With worms. Three, in fact. One is not moving but lying very still amongst a lot of leaves having a big long sleep. Two have disappeared from view. I'm not sure if they have burrowed down into the soil. I'm suspicious. They might have escaped, which the instruction book says they do not do, because worms are stupid and can't find the way out. Well, I bet our worms are not stupid. They know when they're about to be the focus of a soil experiment in the home educated triplet's back garden and they've legged it, or wrinkly-squished it, whatever is the worm equivalent.

Despite that, I think I'm going to count today a success. The house is still a tip, the fridge is a disgrace, and Dig tells me from Finland he won't be back in time, so I'll have to pick up Sasha tomorrow from the airport and he's left the flight information somewhere in the kitchen. But that's cool. Because I have three worms in a plastic container. Such a blissful state of achievement.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

The fridge

The fridge is disgusting. I can barely describe it. So imagine this scenario.

Eighteen months ago the washing machine broke down. Dig went off and bought a new one and within a couple of weeks it was installed and working. Relatively problem-free for the inhabitants of The Pile, you might think.

There was just one problem. The front of the washing machine bows out, like a big curved letter C. Why it does this I do not know. It just does. But the consequence of the washing machine with a front shaped like a letter C is that we cannot open the fridge door. The fridge is adjacent to the washing machine; we cannot put it anywhere else because it is a specially long fridge and doesn't fit anywhere else. And for the last eighteen months we've not been able to open the door. Well, to be specific, we can open the fridge door to about a 30 degree angle; just enough to slip a hand in and out with a litre of milk.

Now, have you or your children ever put anything in the fridge, then knocked it over, and thought, 'Dash! I've just knocked over the yoghurt/ milk/ grated cheese/ orange juice/ pink sugar mice/ Hama beads/ pile of soil that mother is going to have a fit about when she finds it/ the bowl of soup that I thought I might eat later/ the tinned tomatoes that I opened on auto-cook and couldn't face/ half-bot of wine/ a snowman's head from the freezer/ the rest of the pasta that one day I might make into pasta salad/ clay fish/ etc etc?

In any normal fridge, of course you can spill it, curse, scoop out the contents and clean it up, promising to be more careful next time.

Well in this house, when any of the above gets knocked over in the fridge, there's nothing we can do about it because we can't open the door beyond a 30 degree angle. I can throw in some dishclothes to mop up the orange juice and soup, and I can scoop out a bit of the soil, but that's about it. I simply can't get in there to clean it all up. So it stays.

Now after childbirth I can take some disgusting sights, but the inside of our fridge isn't one of them.

The slight problem is that we are about to be exposed on this one. We have a visitor coming to stay on Saturday until Monday. This is Sasha, who is flying in from Germany to meet the children and decide whether she would like to be an au pair with us during August. And what if she opens the fridge? This would be a disaster. Dig has a reputation to maintain. What if she photographs the inside of the fridge and posts the horrific sight up on MySpace, or worse, provides a narration and sets up a video on YouTube? The national press would be alerted to Dig's fridge. I would be prosecuted. The children would go into care. All would be lost.

So today I have grabbed Tiger by the arm and marched her off to John Lewis to buy a fridge. Dig assured me you could go in, say 'I'll have that one' and they pop it round the next day.

Only it doesn't happen like that, Dig. Oh no, not at all. They pop it round in seven days time. Seven days. Sasha will have been and gone. She'll have her photo/video safe in her mobile phone and she'll be dialling the Daily Mail on Monday morning demanding counselling and compensation. So let's hope she's vegan, hates milk or never expresses interest in the fridge.

I could chain and padlock it, which will look normal, of course. Or I could stand in front of it for 48 hours shouting out 'Don't worry Sasha! I'll get the milk!' Or we could just let her get some milk for her cup of tea, and we pretend everything's normal and hope we get away with it.

Oh dear, oh dear. On the fridge front, all is lost.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

A difficult start

OK I forgot that we are not at home today. Glastonbury is booked to hack the hedge back at 9.00, we have to get to the dreadful swimming misery at 11.00 and the children are all down for a trial ice-skating lesson at 2.00. Then I have to ring the dentist and buy a fridge.

This is the problem with timetables and organisation. Life gets in the way. By 10 am Glastonbury has still not arrived so I am pacing about the house cursing. Then I remember from last week that Fish, the swimming teacher, said that today's lesson was at a different time, but I can't remember what time. I telephone, am on the mobile to the leisure centre, and see Glastonbury bursting into the front garden looking red in the face, probably after a difficult start with a viburnum.

From this point it's all downhill. After a few minutes Glastonbury powers up his petrol-powered hedge trimmer and the children, attracted by the noise, abandon everything to swarm around him in the street because they want to see what he does. On the phone, Fish says the lesson is earlier, we're missing it, she can do us a favour and fit us in at midday. I'm in a panic about the children now, expecting Glastonbury to sever someone with his hedge trimmer. Dig can't get the children inside to watch from the window because he's on the phone with Author Pee who says he wants blank pages in his book. This is the book that's already over 1,000 pages long, has been increased in price twice, and this is the phone call that's inevitable. Author Pee is upset because we have removed the blank pages before the section introductions and, he says menacingly, the blank pages were in the original manuscript, which just goes to show how we disrespect an author's work. So I follow the children out. With Fish chatting in one ear, I hear with the other the front door clunk behind me.

It's 10.15 and I should be running an activity which will work. Instead I am flailing about in the street, gesticulating to the children, on the phone to a leisure centre and locked out of the house.

Now, there's just the rest of the day's activities still ahead. The swimming, ice skating, dentist and fridge. And of course I couldn't imagine right now that anything else could possibly go wrong.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

A timetable for organisation

It's Tuesday. It's 48 hours since Nanjo left to be a mature student somewhere in Warwickshire and the house is descending into its usual chaotic condition. While she's here, Nanjo organises everything and this is a very good thing. But when she leaves, nothing gets done. There's a lot of boiled tinned tomatoes to eat, a lot of laundry on the floor and a lot of Squirrel, Shark and Tiger slamming around the house having big fights.

So for the days we are at home and not out at lessons or visits, I resolve to be more organised, like Nanjo, and everything will get better. I have made a timetable based on what Nanjo does. This is a timetable of How To Be Organised On The Days We Are At Home. I promise to do it all. Honestly.

1. 8.30 Plan the day. This is why Nanjo can fit in twenty impossible things before tea time. She plans. She doesn't get distracted, wander around the house vaguely and, when she walks into a room, say existential things like 'Why am I here?'

2. 9.00 Ask the children what they would like for tea after breakfast. This is a very good trick. Their tummies will be full and so they will say something like 'bananas' or 'toast' and this makes tea possible and their responsibility when they don't like it. So I can say 'Here are your bananas and toast', and when they complain it is not cheesy rice, lentil dip, or three-coloured home made pasta, I can say, 'It's what you asked for'. Most importantly, it leaves time in the afternoon when I am not preparing tea to achieve Other Things.

3. 10.00 Set up an activity that works. Do not get out the Teach Yourself Physics book and attempt to read and understand the theory of gravity while simultaneously reading the instructions on the Have Fun With Physics box that came from the Oxfam shop last year for only 99p because all the rubber bands are missing. Any activity set up like this will fail. Nanjo says that having a sense of achievement early in the day is A Good Thing, so do something you know will work and everyone will like, because this prepares the ground for Organisational Rule Number 4.

4. 12.00 Give the children an activity that does not work. Provide them with an egg timer and suggest they time how long it takes a flower bud to open. They will scamper off into the garden, spend 20 minutes looking for a dandelion, stand on it by accident, lose the egg timer, get distracted and start playing Unicorns Fighting in the Mud. While they are about the impossible task, get out the physics book and make lunch. If there is a fight, haul one in to chop onions, even if we are not eating onions today.

5. 1.00 Run a lesson over lunchtime. Read aloud from the Teach Yourself Physics book while the audience is captured and their mouths are full, so they can't answer back.

6. 2.00 Go out, even if it is a stay-at-home-day. Walk to the Post Office and buy a stamp. Walk to the corner shop and buy more onions. Walk to the library and return the overdue fairy books. When the ordeal is over, all agree that we have achieved something, and it didn't take hours. This is good for team-building and morale. Now tell them to go off to play, and do Organisational Rule Number 7.

7. 4.00 Do the Other Things while the children are playing. This is a sub-list and includes things like: Ring the Environmental people at the Council and ask for a sticker for the bin because they won't collect it without one. Email Jo, aka Pied Wagtail, and say we would like to come to the Kestrel display. Ring the dentist and rearrange the appointment because I am a chicken.

8. 5.00 Get out the bananas and toast and say 'It's what you asked for'.

9. 6.00 Demand that it's Dig's turn to look after two, and grab the remaining child for one-to-one time.

10. 7.00 Do the boring things like putting the unicorns in the washing machine and the tea plates in the dishwasher. Do not say 'I will do it tomorrow'.

11. 8.00 Bathtime and story-reading. Now this is supposed to be Dig's area. I'll say no more. Theoretically any time now is for Grit to read the Teach Yourself Physics book in preparation for tomorrow, typeset another chapter of 'A Historic and Linguistic Analysis of Verbs', write about the lovely home educating day on the blog, hide in the bathroom and eat chocolate, or lie on the floor and drink wine.

12. 12.00 Go to bed, happy that a day of achievement has been had.

I'll try that tomorrow, then.

Monday, 23 April 2007

No exploding taps in Finland

I knew it was too good to last, all this family thing. Dig announces he's due in Finland in three days time and then the kitchen tap explodes. The tap's been a bit dodgy for about ten years, so I can't really complain about that bit. And Dig's always off somewhere at short notice. He claims that he tells me months in advance but I don't believe he does. Admittedly, it's so painful to hear he's just off to China for two weeks, or India for ten days or, get this one, Mauritius, which he says is not a holiday honestly, that I have to put my fingers in my ears and sing 'Tralalala! Not listening! Not listening!'

I can't do much about the disappearing Dig except get used to it. And the exploding tap too, probably. We bought these taps from Camden Market in about 1992 about three months after the butler's sink. They are proper Victorian brass taps and a pleasure to use. Only for about the last ten years the hot water one hasn't quite been connected to the board it's in, so everytime anyone turns it on they have to hold it down. This was amusing for the first few years, because it's like having a tap that's seen The Exorcist too many times. However, the joke wore thin when I've my hands filled with saucepans, the baby Squirrel, Shark and Tiger screaming for puree of carrot and then, just as I need it, the tap spinning round on its Exorcist kick.

But today it's given up. I turn it on, like normal, the left hand holding onto the stem to stop the spinning, the right hand gripping the tap wheel at the top. Then I go to turn it off. Nothing happens. In fact the flow seems to increase in some sort of Lookalike Niagara Falls Competition, the sink's filling with hot water faster than the plughole can manage and I'm being very self-reliant and grown up shouting to an alarmed Tiger, 'Eek! Get daddy!' to which Tiger gets confused and tells me he's gone to Finland already.

Dig is an adult, so he turns off the water then looks at the tap. After about ten minutes he says he's going to have a go at mending it. Mending it involves taking swings at it with a monkey wrench. After a bit longer he says it's a washer and disappears for two hours to B&Q.

I have no idea what he's done now, except the tap drips drip drip drip drip and it's at a funny angle. I can turn it on and off, as long as I hold it down. Dig says one day he'll mend it properly, but first he's just got to pack his bags and get himself to Finland. And if the tap explodes again while he's gone, get a plumber.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Chat chat chat

Well this is starting to sound normal. Here we go again, en famille, on another jolly outing, all together, travelling in the same direction and at the same time. Amazing. Today we're all off to see a dragon get knocked over in a field by St George. And this is the first time Dig has joined us.

We meet Am and Jol there, which is fab, because I get to chat about everything and ignore the children who are Dig's responsibility, since after three years of doing this venue alone with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, it's his turn. He's very good about it too, taking them off to see the horses and riders attack bags and grapefruits and things, while I watch medieval knights knock each other about the head for fun.

When I'm not watching blokes batter each other around the head or eat fire, then I can chat with Jol. Chatting with Jol is great fun. Without children we can chat about nothing in particular and everything in the world all at once, and this is particularly satisfying. Jol is a very good chatter and can chat about just anything. I bet if I said 'Potatoes and brussel sprouts' she could chat about that and we'd have quite an interesting time of it. Even better, Jol would make me laugh with some brilliant story about Brown Owl, some brussel sprouts, a bag of potatoes and a pencil sharpener.

Anyway, the dragon got knocked over at the end of today's festival in celebration of St George. The children loved it, especially when the dragon couldn't get back up without the help of some villagers and a couple of sheep. All went home happy. Well, perhaps except for Shark who went bonkers on the way out the field where we parked the car.

Actually, this St George fan club is something that neither me nor Dig subscribe to, only Dig's more eloquent and articulate when it comes to expressing the politics. In fact Dig spent quite a lot of the car journey home being articulate about the politics of St George and the representation of the Saracen. I might not take him next year. Actually, I'll revise that thought. If Am and Jol are going to be there, he can come, and I can get in some quality chat time.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Bird day

We all go off to watch little birds being ringed. This is so cute I have nothing bad to say today, just 'Ahhh', and 'Coooo', and 'Look at the little birdies, aren't they sweet?' Squirrel, Shark and Tiger all get to hold these tiny creatures and none of them squeal or manage to kill one by accident thanks to incompetent bird-holding technique or flailing about wildly because they have seen a bee or a fly or anything else that is buzzy and alarming. In fact the whole day goes off mostly brilliantly.

In the afternoon we go on a bug hunt and Squirrel has a bit of a temper tantrum because she hasn't collected all the ticks on her tick sheet and she does go a bit funny like a standing-up ironing board when she thinks there might be a beetle near, but Neville, the insect man, is very understanding and patient and kind. We could do with more people like him in the world, who don't look at us and say, 'Oh good grief here's that dreadful triplet woman with the hair and the kids, quick, hide'.

So Grit is very happy today and not troubled and thinking how lovely are nuthatches and sparrows and baby finches.

And I promise to be better at recycling and take better aim with the water pistol when Trisha, the neighbour's cat, comes into the garden.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Late delivery

DHL are running a stopper scam. So is Parcelforce. Apparently, they're all at it. These are not my words, by the way, they're the words of the nice chap I spoke to on the phone this week, trying to track down our parcels of cosmetic chemicals so that Squirrel, Shark and Tiger can thrash around with beeswax and citric acid, making lip balms, bath salt combinations and soaps.

The parcels were all part of the grand educational plan for Nanjo and the triplets. 'Nanjo, please do home-ed things while I'm working and make chemical stuff to smear all over ourselves.' That's what I said three weeks ago. I would have liked to add, 'Here are the kits.' Then I could have said, 'First week, bath fizzies, second week lip balms, third week, soothing bath salts.' And at the end of the three weeks I could have offered the parting words, 'Here Nanjo, take home some delightful purple bath fizzies, strawberry flavoured lip balm and soothing bath salts. We have quite enough of them now. Anyway the food colouring we used (because I was too mean to buy the proper colouring at £1.60 extra) has turned my lips blue.'

Well, it didn't happen like that. We had no kits thanks to DHL and the stopper scam. Then the Easter holidays got in the way, because the UK has to close down in order to scoff cheap chocolate that smells suspiciously like brown lard.

So, for the last two weeks, Nanjo has not been making chemical confections but has been listening to Grit complaining and whinging, mostly along the lines of, 'Where's the bloody parcel. I've rung now and there's a bloody recorded message saying shove off we're closed for Easter. Damn, blast, drat. Where's the bloody parcel. I've rung again now and they're still not answering. Where's the bloody parcel.' etc etc. To her credit, she has been very patient and not told me to shut up. She just got on with making pink peppermint creams, planting herbs and boiling red cabbage.

The stopper scam is something we've experienced a long time here at The Pile. When I complain at the special Post Office place where we go to collect sad, battered, scammed parcels, all the front of house staff deny it and pretend stopper scamming doesn't exist, which is very irritating indeed.

I'm sure you've experienced the stopper scam too. DHL, or Parcelforce, or whoever, may pretend that they have attempted to deliver the parcels, and they may pretend to leave a card saying you weren't in, when you may have been hovering around the window all morning. Sometimes, bizarrely, they actually do leave a card on the mat saying you weren't in. This is extra annoying, because you were in, and were desperate for a wee. So you then probably suspect them of hiding behind the hedge waiting for you to leave your position behind the curtains at the window, just so they can nip up the path, and leave a card saying they called but look, it's all your fault, you weren't in. Then when you've finished tearing out your hair, stomping about and shouting abuse, there's all the trouble to be gone to about driving 150 miles to the collection point to collect the parcel you ordered which you thought would be conveniently delivered.

Nanjo's off today, back at work at university. And guess what. Thanks to several phone calls, a very nice man at Global Freight Solutions, and a lot of Grit huffing and puffing, today we have the parcels. And when I accused the delivery bloke of running a stopper scam, he looked at me with a studiously blank expression, and said, 'What's that then?'

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Home educated triplets arguing

This is a bit like YouTube. I may even video the next pointless fifteen minute argument and post it up.

It all starts when I've got a few minutes to wander about, so I attempt a bit of home ed. I'm at the kitchen table with Squirrel and Tiger.

'Do you want me to show you how to make a book that stays together without any binding like glue, staples or stitches?' I say. Everyone looks away. 'It's magic!' I add, to help dispel any doubt.

'Yes!' shout Squirrel and Tiger. Shark's not sure, because she has her nose pressed up against Slither River on the computer and she likes splashing the characters with water, so she's holding out for that.

'Right' I say, in my best teachery boundary-marking voice which means 'From this moment I have speaking control.' I do, too, for about two seconds. 'Tiger, can you get some paper please from the paper box?' Tiger duly arrives back with a clutch of A4 paper, some craft paper and plain copier paper.

'Why does Tiger get to do everything all the time' grumbles Squirrel.
'She does not get to do everything all the time. You could get the scissors.'
'I don't want to get the scissors' grumbles Squirrel again, turning horizontal on her chair and sticking her bottom in the air.
'Don't be silly' I say, then take out the coloured paper from Tiger's pile.

Shark turns up at this moment, so I ask her to fetch some scissors. Then Squirrel wails, 'I wanted to fetch the scissors and now Shark's got them and I never can!'
'You said you didn't want to fetch scissors' I add.
'I didn't. I said I didn't want to fetch them then, but then's not now. Is then now?' shouts Squirrel, who's destined to be a lawyer for the prosecution if she carries on like this.
'Well I can't wait for now to be just the moment you decide to fetch the scissors', I retort. 'Now, do you want to know how to make the magic book or not?' I can't say my voice is quite as calm as when I came in, but I'm trying to hold everything together here.
'I do!' shouts Sharks, brightly. Clearly the last character on Slither River just met his match.

I start to tap the paper level on the desk so that I can fold it neatly and make an A5 sized book.
'Whose book is that?' asks Tiger.
'It's nobody's book.'
'I want it!' shouts Tiger.
'It's not fair!' screams Squirrel. 'Why is Tiger always allowed everything and I'm allowed nothing?!'
'I'm not entering into this silly conversation', I say. 'I'm making a book'.
'Whose book is it?' asks Shark.
'It's my book' I snap.
'Can I have it please?' asks Shark.
'Yes, since you ask so nicely' I say. This is an immediate error.
'It's not fair!' cries Tiger. 'Shark gets everything!'

'Now I've had enough'. I say, slamming the paper down on the table. 'Do you want to know how to make the magic book or not?'
'No!' shouts Tiger and picks up A4 paper of her own.
'I can show you what to do with it' I offer.
'I don't care' comes the reply.

Well folks, I could go on here. About the colour craft paper I picked up. That's not fair, because Shark got the purple and she always gets the purple, apparently. About the way to fold the paper. That's not fair because Tiger says she's not making an A5 book, she's making an A4 sized book so I'm only showing Shark and Squirrel what to do.

And so it goes on. We all did go on in fact for about fifteen minutes until I lost my temper and threw the paper on the table. Tiger immediately goes off to compose her own book, Shark scampers back to the computer and Squirrel sits in the rocking chair sulking.

This is the trouble with triplets. Each one is looking for the slightest suggestment of preferment or advantage gleaned by one of the others; each one is watching for the slightest sign that would indicate an inequality, a denied opportunity or a prejudice, and each one is out to assert their rights of status.

So much for our emphasis on co-operation through negotiation. Just another foiled moment in the home ed diary of triplets. It's a wonder we achieve anything round here at all.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Good timing

The gardener called again today. He wanted a mobile number and to tell me he'd double-booked. He was just on his way into the front gate and I was just on my way out the front gate with Shark. Or rather I ran past him, out the gate with coat flapping and hair streaming, while Shark stood facing him on the path behind me, screaming.

Squirrel and Tiger were already in the car. And we'd had to park a good way away, thanks to the OAPs nicking my parking space because of the bowls match. On the run, I was already distracted, because I couldn't find my glasses - third pair now disappeared - and I had Dig's keys, which makes everything worse because Dig gets even more grumpy than normal.

The gardener, who's nicknamed Glastonbury thanks to his comment on entering the back garden, 'Cool, just looks like Glastonbury', started along behind, shouting out about the double booking thing. I managed to rearrange another time by the time I made the car, then shouted out my mobile number across the street. Only later did I hope Mr Spooky from the corner plot wasn't in earshot.

An inconvenient moment to arrive, I think, when it's taken so long to get hold of someone. We don't want to put him off.

Now, 9 am, next Wednesday morning, the new time he's rearranged. Let's see. The children will have been conducting an experiment on soil and will have left a pile of mud on the step. Trisha, the neighbour's cat, will have been locked in the lobby again by accident and Glastonbury will be the first to open the door to it. We'll be trying to get out the house for swimming which requires a huge amount of screaming and swinging of woggles in the hallway. Dig will answer the door but won't have his trousers on and I'll rush out to cover this embarrassment in pyjamas with a red wine stain down the front.

Just as well that today he didn't call two hours later then, when I find Dig sitting at his computer without his shirt on. I ask if he's exposing himself for gratification but he tells me Tiger's spilled orange paint over his new shirt just as he was hitting a spider on the head with a hammer in the bath.

I'm glad Glastonbury didn't call three hours later though, when there's a great deal of banging and shouting coming from upstairs and we find Shark and Squirrel locked in their bedroom thanks to a door handle that we now discover doesn't work. They can't get out, and are stood against the bedroom window contemplating the jump, shouting 'Help! We are locked in!'

If he'd called four hours later he'd have arrived in the middle of a steaming row over Mr Frim and his ruddy bold italic with Grit slamming the doors that do work, and Dig striding around getting all shouty and waving his finger about. At least he's fully clothed.

Five hours later it would be Nanjo slamming around the kitchen thanks to Shark who's gone beserk up the park over a bicycle race and is now clinging to a lamp-post up Smithy Street. As Shark's still screaming and the neighbours are probably dialling 999, this prompts a family exodus to peel Shark from the lamp-post, which we of course try to do, discreetly.

All considered, Glastonbury arrived at quite a good time of the day. And let's hope he's not having second thoughts.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Nothing good to say today

Well, I'm back at work, while Nanjo experiments with acids and alkalines and while Tiger plants sweetcorn, Shark plants leeks and Squirrel plants carrots. That all sounds much better fun than I'm having in the office.

The work that I do is depressing, tedious, and uninspiring. I check the copy and setting on academic books. This torture is made a whole lot worse when some of the obscure academics we deal with believe themselves and their books to be of such vital significance to the world that they also probably believe I do nothing but wait for their book to come in, dribble with joy when it arrives, then typeset it lovingly, probably handcrafting each line.

If anything happens in the process that the author doesn't like, they go bonkers. One author, let's say for the sake of argument that his initials are F.R.I.M., used 1500 words in an email telling me how 'incompetant' I am. I changed his z spellings to s in accordance with house style; I took off his bold italic which he uses when he wants to shout at the reader and, crime of the century, I removed his CAPITAL LETTERS.

This sent Mr Frim into a fit. He probably hasn't recovered yet. He's probably still foaming at the mouth somewhere while his family have to pelt him with fruit to calm him down.

Now I'm not going to be vengeful, because the blog shouldn't really be used like that, should it? Of course not. I'll just say that Mr Frim sent in three copies of the same article, all different. That was the first crime. The second crime was 47 diagrams, all unpublishable on a book format and on the page dimensions we work with. The third crime was seventeen pages of references on his article, none of which were submitted in the style requested. And his final crime is calling me 'incompetant'. And if I am, in any spelling, only I'm allowed to say so.

It all starts when he gets the first proofs. Oh dear. He sees all the 'theorizing' and 'analyzing' has become 'theorising' and 'analysing' and the foaming starts. 'I want my z's!' he cries. And when he's in full flow what with the bold italic having gone, he spots no capital letters on his favourite words. But what pushes him over into the 1500 word attack, which liberally uses words like 'incompetant' and 'inadequate' and 'pointless'? The design of his pages uses a space above the A-heads. Can you imagine? Space above the headings?! Mr Frim is outraged. He says this is a 'Waste of space when space is needed!'

So I think we should set a special heading style for Mr Frim. One with no space near it, or anywhere around. And all the space we save, we should put on a piece of paper and post it to him, so that he can use it later for something important.

This is what I deal with. Academics like Mr Frim who, for the past few years, have systematically set about destroying any design intelligence that has been brought to their books and who have undermined any attempt to present their ideas to new readers in a coherent, accessible way.

Well, I'm having my revenge, silently. The one thing an author wants is to be read. Without that, there's no point. So I'm making these pages of academic journals very uncomfortable to read indeed. I'm not saying how; that's one of the typesetter's secrets. But I hope the readers fall off along the way.

And the one consolation from this work session, apart from knowing that I'm preparing tombstones of text, is that I'll be able to pay for the swimming, the horse-riding, the petrol to the art sessions, and some shoes.

Of course we can scrap that last idea. Dig tells me that Gordon put up the corporation tax for small businesses, so the shoes can go and we'll pay the government that money instead. Thanks, Gordon. Perhaps I could come round and borrow a pair of yours when the ones I'm wearing drop from my feet.

You see, I told you, there's nothing good to say today.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Success in the garden

Tra la la! Tra la la! We have a gardener! Tee hee! Tra la la! I've finally got one! I got one! I got one! Whoop de doo! Sing out loud! WhoooOoooH!

As you can guess, this comes with a history. Once upon a time I could shout out the Latin names for all varieties of Hosta and Euphorbia and tell my ficus from my viburnum with my eyes shut. Hours, weeks, years, I probably spent fussing over Edwardian planting schemes and the best cottage garden colours for Hollyhocks.

And then, all of a sudden, there were babies. And dribble. And sick and more more dribble. And there was no time for any gardening beyond hacking the privet hedge to within an inch of its life once a year, but only the bits I can reach.

This was very all very sad. The Ranunculus repens went bonkers and slaughtered everything in its path. Then came the brambles and the ivy, and down came the perenial papaver and clematis. In fact all the land that was once all of the colours of the garden became like a brambly twisted mat of thorns and grass and ivy and dandelion. For several years I made the best of it, and we had a wild garden, where we could harvest all the blackberries for bramble jam and hold Ranunculus repens under our chins and say we like butter, even when we don't.

Not surprisingly, secretly I have harboured a desire for a gardener to help rescue me, just once a month, from the thorns and grass and ivy and Ranunculus repens. But because I am quite into this wild garden thingy, what with the cute hedgehogs and frogs and birds and bat, I want a gardener to help make something of a compromise here, with talk of planting plans and colours and smells like in the cottage garden days, but with a stern finger towards those brambles and ivy and Ranunculus repens.

You'd think I was asking the planet Venus to come round and have tea. The first bloke I got said Japanese gardens were very popular and he could do a lot of pink gravel cheap. The second bloke suggested he and his mate could clear the garden in one afternoon and he'd take it down the tip. The third bloke wasn't interested in anything under a relandscaping commission of several thousand pounds and the fourth one wouldn't come in further than the gate. I pleaded for a quote on bramble maintenance but it was all no good.

And now I've actually got one. He visited yesterday, declared my Fatsia the biggest one he's ever seen and he's put in the quote today. I'm holding it in front of me, and for cutting the hedges and pulling back the ivy to free up guttering and pipes it's flipping reasonable.

And guess what, he's written 'Care of nature areas.' Aaah. He's my man.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Joining a blog ring

I've been cruising around the blogs again. I feel like a beacon of misery here, flickering out in a last Phut! of despair when I see all these blogs with happy faces and acres of pages on what-a-lot we-have-achieved this-week, all done up with fanfare and congratulations.

In fact, I'm almost tempted to join one of the blog rings, only I reckon I'd be thown off it after the first week. I'd soon be known as 'that triplet woman with the hair'. Which is better, I suppose, than the nickname I have down at the tip. I'm down there so often now, looking for stylish storage solutions and picking up Ikea furniture even cheaper than Ikea than manage, that the staff have given me the name Basket lady. It's growing on me. I could persuade myself that it's got a touch of class. I could even adopt that as my moniker and start blogging from there about treasure at the local tip.

Anyway, apart from complaining and rummaging around at the local tip, we do sometimes home educate these children here, and I have wondered about the home ed blog ring, like how long I could manage on it before I got told to shove off because I never go on about our marvellous educational experiences, but rather how the tap's broken again or how the shower's never worked in 15 years, or what treat I found at the tip this week.

Well, I could do some home ed blogging. I really could. Now I know I will encounter some of the Tinkertop-Moonbean variety, who probably got up at six o' clock this morning, made scones, built a scale model of the Eiffel Tower, read Pride and Prejudice, had breakfast, wrote a dissertation on Edward I's architectural heritage, went to Brownies/Scouts/Girls Guides, played chess with her baby brother (Sooo cute!!), made herself a dance outfit, investigated mould, and came up with a new theory of physics before she had a bath. Which is not bad going for a three year old.

So I know we won't be welcome. Because our home ed diary would probably be along the lines of the following:

Tiger and Shark had a big squeal this morning at 7am. They were told they were bloody lucky they didn't have to go to school, now get downstairs, tiptoe past Mr Pod's room and get breakfast quietly or there'd be trouble. Then we can start learning something useful.

At 9 am I made everybody read the sentences: 'A conger eel is cooking the carpet' and 'There is salty mermaid on lettuce for tea.' This is what came out of my home-made wordplay box, so bloody well read it and stop arguing.

By 10 am there was a big argument about whose turn it was for the computer. This prompted a discussion about politics around the world. Then Tiger had a temper tantrum and broke up the half-finished jigsaw puzzle of a whale and got sent to her room to think about crime and punishment.

By 11 am everyone was looking for the library book we've lost again. We did it in French. Nous cherchons le livre. We did 'If I see that disgusting mess in your room again I will send you to school' in English. I don't know that in French.

By midday I got out the teaching clocks. By 12.15 I had a temper tantrum and went to the office to think about crime and punishment.

In the afternoon we all went out to the safari park. We looked at the lions. Everyone got a big lecture about how lady lions do all the work while the men lions loll about and eat deer, which led to a long monologue on industrial progress through feminisation of workplace practices. Obviously by me. By then the junior Grits had all fallen asleep in the back of the car after a long squeal at the adventure playground.

By evening everyone had a big fight about whose turn it was for the bath.

So that would be about it. I'd post that up on the home ed blog ring and either everyone would feel smug and superior because Tinkertop-Moonbeam was just putting the finishing touches to her interpretation of Degas after her performance in Swan Lake this afternoon, or they would chuck me off because they'd think I was making it up just to be facetious.

As if.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

14 April is Grits Day

It is World Grits day. And apparently 14 April is the day to celebrate this delightful food made from mashed corn, and 'make this day beautiful and get down with people you know and love and have the time of your life'.

No people, you have it all wrong.

The real Grit is a down-beat, down-at-heel, grey-haired mother of triplets who survives (only just) by complaining, whining, finding fault and misery, and using heavy-duty sarcasm to illuminate the darkest of dark days.

About the only things that Grit shares in common with Grits day is that Grit is an acquired taste, and Grit walks about thinking that the whole world is wrong and Grit is right.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Preparing the cellar

I've been in the cellar. I've taken a carving knife to the mattress that the children were using as a trampoline and I've cut it into bits so I can smuggle it out the house while they're occupied watching UK TV History, which they're obsessed with.

I've also collected a big bag of plastic toys which don't match and, if they're not misfits, then are probably broken. They're in the hall waiting for Emmie the freecycler who says I make the planet a nicer place to live in. She only knows me as an obsessive freecycler. Dig might give her a different opinion: Emmie hasn't been on the receiving end of Grit's acidic tongue-lashing and some heavyweight door slamming.

Anyway, I've boxed up the toys down in the cellar, and been down to the tip where I got two trendy metal framed chairs for a fiver. I've recovered the seat cushions and then gone back to Ikea. This time I've bought a table shaped like an egg. I wanted the one shaped like a peanut but they didn't have it because, Ahmed says, they are changing supplier and if I really wanted a peanut shaped table they could give me information in about a week.

Well, we need a table a lot quicker than that. Because when Nanjo comes again on Monday we want her to move into the bedroom-cellar, which has been the children's playroom; we want her to sleep in the Ikea bed I put up yesterday, and we want her to do some of her studying-studenty work at the table shaped like an egg. Then she can have a shower in the broken down shower that Dig has nearly mended but which still leaks a bit into the cupboard.

This is all part of a grand plan. Nanjo has very gamely agreed to be the equivalent of the experimental mouse in the cellar because soon I am picking up Sasha from the airport who's coming over from France to be grilled by Shark, Tiger and Squirrel for her potential qualities as an August holiday au pair. And she's destined for the cellar bedroom. So we want to know this room's shortcomings, benefits and possibilities for a homesick au pair who locks herself into her room with her MP3 player and refuses to come out. We want to know whether she'll still be happy there despite her misery.

I should say at this point, just in case Sasha is reading, that the cellar is not dark and dingy and manky (although thanks to Grit's non-cleaning routine, it is not presently cobweb-free). It is a lovely bright space with a tiled floor, a strange corridor that runs outside the main house and which provides sunlight through three wide Velux windows, an Ikea bed that looks like a sofa but is really a bed, two terribly trendy chairs, and a table shaped like an egg.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Irritating things

I am a bit grumpy today. Dig has upset me so I have put up the Ikea bed without telling him as a message that I can jolly well do without men, thank you very much. This has made me feel better.

Actually, I am grumpy every morning. Dig just makes it worse. It starts every day because of the electric lead on the coffee machine upstairs. Thanks to the way we live in this bizarre house, we've ended up with a kitchen attached to our bedroom. Which is great for late night eating when I can collapse asleep after sag paneer. And it's great in the morning when I can roll out of bed and make coffee. And then I am irritated by the lead on the coffee machine.

The coffee machine is all white. The bankrupt interior designer who did up the flat was inspired by the Mediterranean for the kitchen, so it's brilliant white and sky blue. And the coffee machine is all white too. Except for the lead. Which is black. Now why couldn't the person who designed that coffee machine and had, as its selling point, a total white appeal, add a white lead?

I know that white leads exist. Because next to the coffee maker is a dark blue electric kettle. And guess what? Instead of a black lead, which would blend in nicely with the midnight blue kettle, it has a white lead! So it's deliberate! They do it deliberately, just to annoy me. And there's probably a law somewhere about it too. All designers must use a contrasting colour lead to electronic kitchen appliances. The law will be called 'Directive 45/990. Annoy Grit.'

If that wasn't bad enough first thing in the morning then I have the next grump-making vision downstairs by the nearly-mended shower. It's the ironing board. Or more specifically, the ironing board legs.

Now I want a designer to tell me why ironing boards have to have legs like they do. That irritating letter X shape prevents me from putting anything underneath the ironing board, which is, let's face it, just a flat surface with a curved end. But no. Instead of a practical four legs like a table and an iron board on a lockable lazy susan design, which is what I really need for an ironing board that has never ever been folded up and put away in the last 20 years, I get a cross-legged shape that prevents me from putting under it the big box I got from the tip for a fiver. So the big box takes up room somewhere else and irritates me as well.

These domestic things are very, very irritating. And this is before I get on to the kitchen tap that revolves 90 degrees every time you turn it, the wobbly floorboard in the kitchen, and the handles that have now dropped off a total of four doors in the house.

And I have to get used to it all. And Dig, too. Now I am in a grump.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Upsides and downsides

We have had a mixed day today, so I have listed it.


1. Nanjo is back.

2. We have bought organic extra thick double cream for the ice cream maker.

3. The children have been self-directed and absorbed in educational projects.

4. We have bought a day bed from Ikea for the au pair who is coming over soon to be interviewed by Shark, Tiger and Squirrel.

5. The weather is lovely and we have all the doors open to the garden. 'Tra la la' everyone is singing with the joys of spring.

6. I made delicious stuffed mushrooms for tea thanks to a can of spicy Greek beans in tomato sauce. And mushrooms, of course.


1. Nanjo is worn out after a heavy Easter weekend and has collapsed on the sofa in front of James and the Giant Peach which she says is rubbish anyway.

2. We have lost the spindle that clips the paddle to the motor in the ice cream maker.

3. Squirrel spilled yellow paint all over the yard. My knickers, which were hanging on the line without pegs, because we have no pegs, fell in the yellow paint. Then Tiger locked herself in the top flat and refused to come out. Shark screamed herself hoarse in the garden because she had seen a bee.

4. Raj at the Ikea checkout put his elbow on Hot key 7 and I paid £1.49 for Glimma Tealt 1o. We had no Glimma Tealt 1o. But I didn't notice until the transaction was complete which meant that I had to go to the Returns desk. Unfortunately, because I had no Glimma Tealt 1o I had nothing to return. A very fat lady had to come down from a different floor and enter a special code for invisible returns. It took 20 minutes.

5. The blackbird who lives outside flew in the kitchen and proceeded to bang its head against the window repeatedly while pooping everywhere. We opened a window nearby and Dig started to wave a broom wildly about which he called 'encouragement'. I fled the grisly scene and wouldn't go back in until all was quiet.

6. I burned my hand on the pan handle. It stings a lot and I've wrapped round it a bag of spinach.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The vegetable garden

Now, imagine this. I've just put up a row cover for the vegetable patch. It's just a flimsy pole frame with plastic sheeting that protects the veg from cold, wind, insects and Trisha, the neighbour's cat. This long low tunnel cost me 20 quid from the garden shop. The minute it's up, in jumps Squirrel, Shark and Tiger and down comes the flap over their heads.

Squirrel says she's a carrot. Tiger says she's a sweetcorn. And Shark says she's a leek. Then the leek says it's time to pull up the carrot. There's a lot of giggling from inside. Then the leek climbs out and tells the carrot to come out. The carrot doesn't want to. The leek reaches in and starts to pull. The carrot comes out through the flap, legs first. The carrot hangs onto the sweetcorn. Then the sweetcorn gets her hair caught in the tubing and starts to squeal; the leek starts to pull the carrot's trousers off; the carrot grabs at the tubing which holds the whole frame together; the sweetcorn's hair gets pulled even more. Mummy grit starts to shout as the frame starts to tremble and shiver, then the leek grabs a pot fish on a stake and starts to poke it wildly through the flap to force the carrot to let go of the tubing. Within seconds, Squirrel, Tiger and a lot of tubing and plastic sheeting are rolling about on the vegetable patch being simultaneously thrashed with a pot fish on a stick while everyone is banned by Mummy grit from the garden forever and ever.

Clearly, vegetable gardening with children is not going to be as easy as they might make out on Gardener's Question Time.

The first vegetable plant Squirrel, Shark and Tiger called their own was a baby courgette. All credit to the thing, it clung on to life for about two weeks after they got hold of it.

The first problem was clearly lack of preparation by the parents. We had to buy the seedling because we'd long missed the chance to start seeds, so it was that weekend or never. It meant the children didn't have the experience of waiting, checking every morning to see if a little green leaf was nosing its way from the earth; there was no waiting at all to enjoy the anticipation of growth, leaves, flowers and fruit. No. It was instant. One minute, no courgette plant, the next, a cute baby courgette plant waiting for some love and attention. And boy, did it get that.

Squirrel was very keen to get planting. Before I got through the house to the back garden it was already being rammed into the mud patch. I tried not to be too discouraging and suggested we might dig a hole for it instead. That took Shark six seconds with her plastic spade before Squirrel was ramming it in the ground again. Then it was Tiger's turn to assault it with the watering can. At that point I knew all was lost for the baby courgette. I came inside to celebrate its short life with a gin and tonic.

The following year, Dig took charge, and grew potatoes. This was partly successful. Dig got the seed potatoes, set them in trays, put them in the office and promptly forgot about them.

Last year's effort's were better. Squirrel grew carrots. This involved watering the little leafy shoots at least seven times a day for several days then totally neglecting them apart from painting a few leaves orange to suggest it might be autumn and time to pull them up. I did pull them up too, one night about 10pm, and inserted in their place a bunch of suspiciously clean carrots from Tesco.

Shark didn't fare any better. She grew peas. She put them in peat pots and hid them around the garden so her sisters couldn't find them. No-one ever has. Tiger grew lettuce. This was doomed from the start. Tiger neglected the lettuce immediately after planting, but remembered about September time when she went off looking for them.

Now this year, we're organised. I have a row cover in pieces over the vegetable patch; we have packets of seeds; a stash of peat free potting compost and lots of pots. Wish me luck.

Monday, 9 April 2007


A day of wandering around vaguely, starting a lot of projects all over the house, abandoning them, wandering off and starting another vague unfocused activity somewhere else, before wandering off from that. Result: trail of unfinished projects, unlikely objects scattered around the house, and no sense of achievement.

This reveals two things. First, I like a sense of achievement to every day. 'Well! At least I got the washing done!' I could say that if I'd actually done it. But no. There's a pile of laundry on the kitchen floor, thoughtfully removed from the laundry basket where it was hidden. When it was in there, we didn't have to step over it.

'Well, I cooked!' I might say that. 'A family meal!' Er, actually, no. Two stone baked pizza bases from Tesco with some rubber cheese rammed on top probably doesn't qualify.

I could try 'I changed the bed linen and tidied the bedrooms!' No. Or, 'I've started setting another book!' No. 'I've spent such a fab time with the kids and Squirrel's read the word 'chaotic'!' Nope. I have spent no time with Squirrel, Shark or Tiger. In fact, the only thing I probably did achieve, i.e. putting their doll prams into the freecycle pile, they dragged out again. The doll prams were stashed away quietly in the garage, bothering no-one. Now they're stashed behind the front room curtains.

So it's the office then. 'I've got all the paperwork cleared from my desk!' Ha. That would be a thing. I made a list of twenty things to do two days ago, most of which are achievable with five minutes thought, and all I did today was add 'Dentist' to the list.

Why haven't I achieved anything today? This leads me to my second thought, which I've thought before, and often. When there's been a period of real focused work round here, like setting a book, or changing the house round, or clearing the garden and establishing a Celtic roundhouse, I go through a day or two of having no focus at all.

No focus. Absolutely none. I'm dazed, blank in the head. Staring.

So now I'm off wandering again, wondering about the point of today's blog. And I'm off to put the laundry back in the basket and find that sandwich I put down somewhere at tea time.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Garden obstacles

Well thank you, Briar Rose Garden Centre for putting up a notice yesterday telling the Grit family that you'd be closed today. Twenty minute drive and no notice, actually. Today or yesterday. As it was with Wyevale (another 30 minute drive), Pagoda Garden centre (add 10 minutes) and B&Q (another 10 minutes). At B&Q I wasn't the only idiot driving around in petrol fumes, wasting the planet. A constrant stream of expectant DIY-ers with misinformation about B&Q opening hours were driving through the car park, pausing to read the hand-written note sellotaped to the door, and driving off again. Probably to Wyevale.

Now how did this happen? Has the world changed? I thought that Easter weekend was the biggest garden and DIY weekend of the entire year. Isn't this the weekend that A&E departments are stuffed full of folks who fall off ladders and cut their arms open with hedge trimmers?

Dig says it's probably the work of the Christian right or the anarchist left or that we might have been taken over by the Taliban since he hasn't heard any news for a few days. It couldn't possibly be the work of the Sunday Trading Act from 1994 that states any shop above 3,000 sq ft must close on Easter Sunday. I mean, how ridiculous is that? Don't these people responsible for the government of this land know that I have Shark, Tiger and Squirrel all expecting a medieval English herb garden and a Celtic roundhouse by four o'clock this afternoon or else, and I just wasted one quarter of my available project time driving to a set of closed glass doors?

Well, it's put some grit in my day, that's for sure. I've rummaged around looking for long sticks for hours to stake the Celtic roundhouse up and I've had to throw a bucket of water over Squirrel. Shark and Tiger moved too quick.

And I'm jolly well not going to any garden centre or garden department of B&Q tomorrow. Because tomorrow is digging out the vegetable patch, giving Buddha a scrub and clearing out the little house at the bottom of the garden so I can hide in there with a cup of coffee when I've had enough of places like B&Q.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Garden success

The blackberry brambles are gone. At least above ground. I'm going to chase after their evil little roots and pull them out one by one. I'm going to enjoy it too, after the pain and misery they've caused me. I have scratches on me that make it look like I've done battle with a panther.

But even in the midst of my pain and misery I have to give those blackberry brambles some respect. They didn't go without a fight. And last year we did get 14 pots of bramble jam. Now come August we'll have to get down quick to the blackberry bushes on the back path to our local museum and strip them before the gannets in Moon Street.

So now we have a lot of bare soil where the brambles once stood. And I've done the stone age. I've made a stone circle with lots of different stones and filled the middle with gravel. In it I've buried a paving slab of coiled amonites for the budding archeologists. We also have a Native American Indian camp. This was easy, thanks to a large, flat, bramble-free space, a circle of rockery stones, three bamboo canes staked in the ground wigwam style, some wood tubes looking like totem poles from the garden centre, a couple of plastic snakes from ELC and the cut-out deer. Behind the camp I've hung the children's journey sticks, an idea we took ages ago from an art and craft session and which have looked brilliant ever since.

South America is there, but a bit weak in play value with some terracota pots rammed in the ground pretending to be cooking vessels and some ugly looking Aztec faces ripped off from an ancient windchime and stuck in the tree above. Fairyland is already in place, as is Buddha for the Far East, but I could do with taking the ivy from his head.

Tomorrow I'll hammer the badger in the ground around the English medieval garden. The children will have to help make the pennant flags with heraldic symbols to hang from the bean poles over the herb pots. And I think I can clear the area under the hawthorn and make a Celtic roundhouse with a roll of cane that I picked up a few year ago.

All in all, a day of achievement and success. But the moorhen's still skulking about under the kitchen table with no place to call home.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Garden make-over

I have bought a life-size cut-out muntjack deer. And a badger. The bloke at scrapstore threw in a free moorhen. The deer, badger and moorhen are all made of wood, and have iron bars coming out of their legs so I can skewer them into the ground. They cost me just £4 for the lot so I am a very pleased Grit.

They are all part of the grand garden redesign, which is a project lasting just four days over Easter.

The redesign has come about after consultation with the children. They want, in place of the brambles which have taken over virtually all of the garden, a tour through space and time, with play areas given over to the stone age (a new gravel patch), medieval England (some sticks with flags on, herb pots and the badger), pre-settler North America (stone camp and the deer), a rainforest from South America (stick-in-the-ground humming bird), fairyland (stars hanging from the tree), all of the Far East (Buddha statue, presently in situ), and an Aboriginal meeting point (sandy bit at the bottom of the garden).

I can just about make all of that, if I clear the brambles. I have pooh-poohed fitting in the savannah of Africa and the pyramids of Ancient Egypt. I could manage the savannah if it wasn't for the cost of tin zebras down the garden centre, but Ancient Egypt is quite frankly ridiculous, although we do have a stone cat I bought in John Lewis ages ago that could fit the bill.

But the first job on the redesign is to destroy the brambles. And we'll see how we go finding a home for the moorhen.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Nanjo goes on holiday

Nanjo is leaving today for her Easter holidays, so there's going to be a lot of miserable faces round here come dinner time when we contemplate red kidney beans in boiled chopped tomato pieces, straight from the Tesco value range.

Then it will be long faces because Mummy Grit is not as patient as nice Nanjo and has a tendency to respond when asked 'Can we go to the park' with 'Not bloody likely, and certainly not after last time's episode with the Chihuahua'. Whereas Nanjo says things like 'Of course we can go to the park darling, you can have another cycling lesson and I'll pack a picnic of home-made flapjacks!'

After the glum looks with the disappointing dinner and the no-show at the local park, it'll be the craft activities. Nanjo has been running these lately and Mummy Grit has been off in the office with her iPod, so when the inevitable question comes, 'Can we make xyz', when xyz will be anything from a life-size brontosaurus with wiggly eyes to a beetle that lights up with special glow-in-the-dark paint, Mummy Grit's answer will come as a sad disappointment.

Comparisons will be drawn. Mummy Grit will huff off into a sulk with her iPod and play The Cure extra loud and contemplate punishing everyone by becoming a Goth. The children will consider revenge by being psychologically damaged for ever and Dig will creep off to his computer with a bottle of wine and hope that Nanjo comes back soon.

And Nanjo will be away in London, partying or swilling back vodka martinis unaware of the chaos she leaves behind. Come back soon Nanjo!

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Typesetting with an iPod

I am in love with my iPod. I've been typesetting words all day today, plugged in, and while my eyes slide around these pages on functional syntax I can actually discover what I've got stored away on this marvellous blue box with its perfect circle.

I started off checking all A-heads are in 32 point with a lung-blasting Quimbara with Celia Cruz and then I ran through the B-heads with Simple Minds Glittering Prize.

I managed the bullet lists with the hanging indents with Big Sur from The Thrills and deleted the author's irritating double spaces with Everything Must Go from the Manic Street Preachers.

Dog Train from the Levellers carried me singing over the z to s edits, and Side from Travis saw me through the full stops check; I cruised through the setting on all 560 runners on the page heads against New Order's True Faith and did a copy edit check to change behavior to behaviour and focussed to focused with Crash from The Primitives. I had a blast into the 1980s with The Sisters of Mercy Dominion just for the heck of it. Then of course I had to chuck the check on first paragraph setting while I sat staring out of the window with Spies from Coldplay. After then I needed some serious jumping about which led to a quick dance through the room with the Laas and off to a cup of coffee with Happy House from Siouxsie & the Banshees. It was by then too, with the children all busily occupied and Nanjo cooking up lunch.

By afternoon I'm checking all the C and C.1.1.1 heading styles and flip over to the 1960s for a singalong with Waterloo Sunset from The Kinks and I Only Want To Be With You from Dusty Springfield. Then I'm off with Lucien Windrich happy tip-tapping on the keyboard with Bukanga Man to remove the italics on :;'!?(["]),.

I'm listening to The Cure Staring at the Sea while I'm checking for ). on the references and go for Lullaby to delete the period on the (eds.) and putting the . in on the (ed). This leads me to a full The Cure session over every entry between Aston, G. (1986) and Wodak, R. (1996) although Let's Go To Bed seems strangely inappropriate at Chomsky, N. (1996)

By evening the book needs livening up with Somewhere a Clock is Ticking from Snow Patrol and I Predict A Riot with the Kaiser Chiefs. Actually when the author sees what I've done with his summary boxes, there probably will be trouble and Dig will have to step in to calm things down. But I don't care. Cos I'm listening to The Passenger by Iggy Pop and thinking about travelling about thanks to my bank balance.

I finish the contents check against Department S Is Vic There? and wrap the whole thing up with Survivors from the Levellers and reckon that a boat across the sea sounds just fine to me.

I've asked Dig to bury me with my iPod. But please Dig, remember to put a solar panel up above, cos it's going to be a bloody miserable time being down there if the battery goes flat and I can't recharge.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

More Nanjo

Today Nanjo is making bath bombs with the children as part of their chemistry experiments. There's a bag of citric acid spilling over the schoolroom table and a lot of smell. So much smell in fact that when I creep in to see what's going on, I have to open the back door quietly because I think I might pass out with fumes of Fleur Rose.

The bath bombs are mostly successful. Tiger's heart shape fizzed and sank like a pancake when she put it on the baking tray that she'd washed moments before and hadn't dried properly. Squirrel changed her mind half way through making her shell bath bomb and decided she wanted a love heart instead, so she had to scoop out the mix she'd just spent 10 minutes patting in. It looks a bit crumbly. Shark, decisive as usual, goes straight for the love heart and flattens her mix into the mould, so her bath bomb looks quite convincing. Now all the bath bombs are drying out and Nanjo's given me instructions to order more witch hazel.

I love having Nanjo around. If it was Dig taking charge the bath bombs would be made with a lot of shouting and the house would be a tip and there'd be no lunch. If there was lunch, it would probably fizz a lot in my mouth because Dig wouldn't have washed any surface down. But when Nanjo has done the bath bomb business she's got everything cleaned up and the kids making a cauliflower concoction for lunch. If that wasn't enough I find she's also got fairy wheels off the bikes to have a cycling lesson down the park. Now how many months has Dig been saying he'll do that?

It is such a huge change of pace having Nanjo here that I might have to take her hostage and refuse to let her leave.

And I hope there's more pasta parcels for tea.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Fat Grit

I am a fat Grit. I knew there was a downside to Nanjo, and now I remember what it is. She cooks. She cooks a lot. And what she cooks is very delicious. Perhaps it is the fact that someone else is cooking that makes everything taste better.

As a consequence of Nanjo being here today, I have chomped my way through leek and potato soup, home-made vegetable ravioli, a butter bean creation with carrots and tomatoes, cous cous, garlicky red kidney beans, fruit salad and home-made strawberry ice-cream.

So today I know a lot about food. And quite a bit about the book I'm typesetting. But I know nothing else about the state of the world, the children, Dig, the weather, the laundry, or what's in the fridge. Thanks to Nanjo it's all under control. And I'm going back to work.

Yum. She's making almond cake for tea.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Garden room

We're preparing for Nanjo to come to stay. Everyone is challenged with clearing up. Squirrel is told to go round the house and find all the jigsaw pieces she's hidden - and which I've thought are missing because I only ever buy jigsaws at the RSPCA shop for 25p a box. Shark has the job of sweeping the floor in the schoolroom and removing the soil from the freezer which I found this morning. Dig has to put up the mirror in the cellar bathroom and Tiger is told by everyone to do her violin practice in her room. I get to clear out the garden room.

The garden room is Shark's old bedroom. Once upon a time it was the gardener's hideaway. Tacked onto the back of the house, it has a stone step down and a view onto the garden. It's not big, but it's cute, with a tiny en suite which makes it good for guests. In the past we've put an original Edwardian bed in there, stenciled the walls with flowers and hammed up the country interior with earthenware jugs of daffs and soft flowery cushions.

Shark, of course, trashed it. Mostly because Shark is into fish, big time, and wants to live under the ocean. Stupidly, we tried to oblige. Up went a cardboard mermaid, five foot high. Her head kept lolling about and I had to nail it to the wall. The curtain looked much better painted like the ocean, thought Shark, which we all promptly did. We made a cardboard screen for the window with fish shapes cut out and coloured acetate put in to look like stained glass. For her fifth birthday we hung up a giant fish net from the ceiling with foam fish hanging down. And when we moved bedrooms in February, all of it came steadily down. But of course the room bears the scars.

To be fair, the distress isn't all Shark's doing. The builders sank the hot water pipe to the en suite in concrete, which ate away at the pipe, which in turn sprang a leak. The only way we could quickly resolve it was to seal off the hot water, so now only cold water is available for the overnight guest. Then someone, probably aged three, went bonkers with a permanent marker on the carpet in the toilet. In the end it didn't matter much because the toilet sprang a leak. Now the safety of the entire floor hinges on a well-placed margarine tub.

By about five in the afternoon, I've got the garden room mostly sorted. It's been mucked out, bleached, the margarine tub's been cleaned, the bed's had new sheets, and a vase of flowers and extra pillows make it look cosy. Squirrel's done quite well, and there's only two pieces missing now from the woodland jigsaw: the owl's eyes and a pine martin's foot. Shark's not bothered at all with her job but has kept Tiger busy with some dinosaurs in her room, so she's forgiven. Dig's locked himself in the cellar bathroom by accident after taking the door handle off and managed to cut through the ring main on the electric circuit, plunging most of the house into silence and darkness, but he has got the mirror up, so progress overall has been made.

Now we just wait for Nanjo to come and organise us all, which she'll do within hours. She'll have the children occupied, the dishes washed, lunch cooked and the house tidy. Bliss. I might just take the next three weeks off.