Thursday, 31 May 2007

The milk

I have left out a note for the milkman, cancelling the milk while we are away in Kent. I am very pleased about getting milk deliveries, even though we have only been getting them for two weeks now.

Getting a milk delivery is all part of my plan, in case I die, unexpectedly.

I have a phobia about dying without letting anyone know. Partly because members of our family have done just that and then lain inside the house for three months while the police peer through the letter box and say 'Well someone must be there because the gas fire's on' then when the gas board come round to investigate why no-one's paying such an enormous bill, they actually spy a dead body on the stairs. Well, enough of that.

It could be a phobia prompted by the fact that Dig's always off somewhere or other - Sri Lanka for two weeks when the children were barely six months old was a whoopdeedoo - but of course unlike a single person I have added responsibilities of triplets and no nearby friends because we have triplets.

So it's not surprising I have developed a phobia about this, and it gets worse everytime Dig goes away. My worry is this. That actually no-one would notice if I did die. No-one stops by, no-one phones, we have very little in the way of a routine and Dig's not here to notice. I do worry a bit that he might be here and not notice, but I reckon he would cotton on eventually.

Anyway, say I die without warning. After a few hours Squirrel, Shark and Tiger would look round and wonder where dinner is. Then they would help themselves to some cereal, sit down in front of the computer and squabble over who gets to push the cartoon characters into Slither River. Then they'd go to bed, quietly pleased with themselves for managing to miss the bathtime bit and someone nagging them about boring things like teeth and wee. They'd probably do that day after day till Dig got back from wherever he'd been.

So I got the milk delivered. I reasoned that if I did die, the milkman might notice that the milk wasn't being collected, and buzz. Then Shark might come out, the ambulance would be called and I might just be saved by some miraculous happening, even though I'd been dead two days.

Then Dig of course pointed out that my plan is rubbish. He says of course the milkman would not notice because the children like to bring the milk in, so of course it would not stack up on the step. This worried me for a while. But now I feel much better. Because the children will get a constant supply of milk for their cereal, so if I die, they won't starve.

Anyway, the milk's cancelled, so if I die or not, there's no milk. Because we're not here. We'll be in Kent. Now that's a problem. I'm sure cancelling the milk delivery is a dead cert sign for the local burglar.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Huh hmm

Happy Wedding Anniversary, Dig.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Get ready for learning

We are preparing for our week in Kent. I would like to say holiday in Kent, but as a good home educating family, we never take holidays. We engage in appropriate learning experiences. So, for the school-attending families amongst you, here are some rules for a home educating experience.

If, on the morning we set off, mother starts to mutter loudly to herself about the cost of petrol at the Tesco filling station, we are doing Maths.

If we get lost on the way and mother is shouting at the Sat Nav lady for leading us into unchartered countryside where there is a single track road with pot holes the depth of the Grand Canyon, absolutely no passing places for 20 miles, extraordinarily high hedges so we cannot see over and feel trapped and doomed forever in the Villages of the Damned, and with no phone masts for miles around so we cannot dial 999 or ring the RAC, then we are doing Geography.

If mother has a breakdown and starts to sob uncontrollably, we are doing PSHE.

If we get there and mother has to drink heavily and say she is never coming back, enjoy the week, reflect upon it, and call it History.

When we finally start to enjoy ourselves and determine to spend a few hours on the beach, we are not playing. Oh no. We are assessing the physical properties of wet and dry sand, and sand with bits in it like nylon fishing thread, old crisp packets and dead crabs. This is physics, natural sciences, biology, chemistry and possibly palaeontology when mother says 'Go and do some digging. Over there. As far away from me as possible because I am trying to read a book. Now push off and look for anything. I don't know what. Try dinosaurs.'

And if we build a sandcastle we are not just mucking about. Not at all. We are doing architecture. We are extending our project work to think through the practicalities of making our city environment out of sand, a few pebbles, and some shells. Then there's the sociology of the built environment. Put a dead crab on top of your building, and speculate how office workers might feel if they had to spend all day commuting backwards and forwards to a building with a dead crab for a roof.

If we go off for a walk through the dunes, the shingle, the marsh, or along the roadside because the car has broken down, then we are of course doing science. Science in schools these days seems to be anything from 'Can you spot an earthworm?' to 'Is the M20 natural or man-made?' So that'll do for us.

When we get back to the van after a full learning experience of a day, mother will want to watch Big Brother to see who's getting evicted this week, not that she watches that, not at all. Never ever. That would be much too gutter. Draw a picture while I cook the pasta and shut up because I am trying to listen to BB. There you go. Art. We could all listen to the accents of the contestants on Big Brother. That sounds like English to me. Listen hard! You might hear some Welsh. Languages.

So there you have it. From the core curriculum to the social and moral education we all need, apparently. A week away is just what the home educating Grit family needs.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Make a list

Dig is off today for his not-holiday in Asia. As usual, when Dig goes, I become ulta-focused and make a list. These are the things that are on my list.

1. Pack for Kent.

2. Clear up the kitchen.

3. Buy food. We have nothing to eat in the house except pasta and frozen bread.

4. Buy a season pass for the summer events in the parks which are run every year for children and which are fab, but when I ring up the parks department to ask if there are any tickets left for the event in August am told 'That event is fully booked'. Strange. So I will buy a pass and then they cannot stop me.

5. Vacuum. The TV licencing people might call. They have been threatening to for the last three years.

6. Make some more lists with things on them so that I remember what I am doing everyday. When Dig goes, I usually get involved in child things and I can't remember what else I could possibly do all day long.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Day off

Before he heads off to South-east Asia, Dig is overcome by a need to spend some daddy-daughters time. He volunteers to take Shark, Squirrel and Tiger off to the kiddie theme park while I catch up on some work. Strangely, he seems to have already acquired a season ticket for himself.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Grit is a Good Wife

I am doing Good Wifey things. I'm helping Dig sort out his shirts. No, hang on a minute, I'm sorting out Dig's shirts, while he's in front of the computer, sorting out his travel.

While I'm not sure exactly when I acquired this job of clothes attendant to Dig, I know that I did take it off him. Quite frankly, it's a job I had to have for my own sanity. I became unable to bear the consequences of his annual visit to BHS to stock up with cheap, navy blue, brushed cotton shirts that dye everything else lavender, look terrible after the first wash, and break out into a rash of strange pobbly bits.

As an aside, I should say that taking responsibility for Dig's shirts is not because I am a clothes horse. My clothes are a mess. They're ancient, torn, stained. I can't bear any of them, even when I'm wearing them. But I don't have to stand up in front of people telling them where to put their commas. I have to get down on the floor and mop up paint. And if other people's reactions to Dig's BHS shirts have been the same as mine, pity them.

So I'm sorting out Dig's shirts in preparation for his not-holiday. First, I pile up all the shirts with holes in. We need new dish cloths and floor mops. Sometimes Dig looks at a dish cloth strangely and says things like 'Didn't I used to have a shirt like this?' and I'll say 'Don't be silly, we've had that dish cloth ages.'

Next, I remove the shirts with coffee and red wine stains. Some of these may already have done battle with the Vanish stain remover and the stain won. I screw those up and throw them in the drawer I've mentally labelled DIY clothes. Most of my clothes are already in it.

The next bit is most satisfying today because normally there aren't any shirts left for Dig to pack, and then I have to get the DIY shirts out again. But this time Dig is organised, thanks to Good Wife Grit. Last month at the RSPCA shop I fell upon a dozen shirts, all Dig's size, fat around the tummy and stout around the neck, and I got the lot for £30. Two Valentinos, one DKNY, one Jaeger, two Ralph Lauren and not a BHS in sight. I considered trying to bargain the old lady down to £25 for a job lot, but reckoned that was probably a bit cruel and the extra fiver might help a sad kitten.

So Grit is a Good Wife today and is feeling very pleased with herself. I hope it's being appreciated.

There's just one part of the story I'm wondering about, and that is how a batch of perfectly good, expensive shirts, all the same size, style and colour, arrive at the RSPCA shop, just like they'd been levered out from some man's wardrobe.

Let's hope there doesn't arise a cause for them to go back there.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Telephone manner

Swimming is off. Fish is ill. The awkward Jelly on reception tuts down the phone. She snaps that Fish's lessons are cancelled. Her voice is as sharp as the spikes on a cactus. Then she says 'OK?' and puts the phone down. I can't exactly rearrange our lesson then. She may well have finished with 'Stop bothering me. Now push off'.

This is the second week we're missing lessons and I'm getting huffy puffy about it, considering the disruption they cause and what I have to pay for them. And I can never get past the awkward Jelly to do anything about it. Soon I'm going to drive to the leisure centre and lie on the floor in the reception until we get it sorted out and we get our lessons back. That sounds like the sort of peaceful protest I could do, being a non-violent sort of person, although I slam the phones about a bit when I hear awkward Jelly's voice spiking at me through the earpiece.

Jelly puts me in mind of Gristle, another telephone slasher. Gristle was the receptionist for Da, the boiler man we used to get in whenever the boiler broke down, which it did do, often. Gristle was horrible. I hated calling Gristle on the phone. I would rather die in a freezing cold house surrounded by ice than phone Gristle and ask her when Da could call.

Gristle's answer to my half-started question 'Could Da call-' would be a curt 'Sorry' which meant 'I'm bloody well not sorry'. Then she would skewer out the 'but' which meant 'Don't think you're getting your ruddy boiler mended. I've got Da's diary. And you can put the wailing kid down because that's got no effect on me'. If we got as far as arranging a date she'd spit it out with 'Do you want it or not?' If I said 'Um' I'd get back 'It's booked' and she'd put the phone down.

My first encounter with Gristle was when the children were four months old. And the boiler broke down. 'We have babies in the house!' I cried. 'Sorry.' I'm sure Gristle didn't even breathe in to say that. 'Triplets!' I whine. 'Sorry' stabs Gristle again. She's probably holding a cleaver over the telephone wire. I try wheedling. 'Don't we get a priority above the single bloke in Never Hill who's always out at his girlfriends?' 'No' snaps Gristle. Then, 'Da is busy. Until November. He can't come out. First date. November 13th. Do you want it or not?'

Now we like Da. Da is nice. Da has never electrocuted himself on the boiler and ran out of the house to hide in his van like that other strange boiler man we once got in desparation. And Da has serviced all the boilers here for years, or at least did do before the psychotic Gristle moved in and severed all access.

So every time Da came I gently inquired about Gristle. 'Oh she's gone' said Da last time. Probably to work for the doctor or the bus company or the gas board where her telephone slasher manner can be properly appreciated.

I'm rather hoping Jelly does the same. Except that I'd meet her there next time I rang up to complain about the gas bill.

Thursday, 24 May 2007


What a Thursday. Breakfast, laundry, dishwasher. Rush off to Mele's for French lesson. Rush off to the Gym and Trampoline lessons. Rush off to Tesco to grab lunch to take to the kiddie theme park brandishing the newly acquired season tickets, or rather, the letter that says they owe us season tickets, then rush off to Drama Club. If it was the first Thursday in the month, we'd be rushing from Drama to the kiddie RSPB meeting. So that'd be out of the house from 10 in the morning to 9 at night. Typical home ed life.

Just in case there's anyone from the Local Authority reading this and might be considering asking us the question, 'Do the children ever go out?'

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

A day in a field

Well, after one of the most fun days Grit's had of late, along comes another one. This time we're off to a field and a wood with a theatre company to muck around as fairies and workmen from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The weather is hot, the sky cloudless, the kids are ready, and in a fit of preparation I've put petrol in the car.

The only slight problem is in finding the right field, located somewhere outside Pretty Town. One field looks much like another field to me. And the sat nav lady is of course no help once we get to the actual field level. So I'm following emailed instructions from the organiser.

'Take the first left at the roundabout'. Well that bit's easy. I'm on a single track road with a bit of dodgy tarmac and some plants growing through it.

'Go through the gate on your right. It is about a mile down'. After about a quarter mile there's a gate, on the right. There's also Mimi, in the car ahead of us, destined for the same home ed drama workshop as us, turning round, looking not sure. She leans out her car window and shouts. 'I think this is it!' 'The instructions say a mile down the road!' I shout back. 'I can see cars!' says Mimi. And she's right. Just beyond the edge of the field, there are cars on the horizon.

'Park at the barn' say the instructions. I don't see any barn. 'I'm going in!' shouts Mimi, and off she drives, through the gate into the field.

Now I don't know if you have seen the film Clockwise, but as I watch Mimi disappear over the field, I'm thinking, 'That's a field, Mimi. And the barn might be just over that hill, but what if there's no tractor to get us out the mud? What will we do then? That's just the sort of thing that happens to Grit, so I tell you what, I'm not following.'

So off I drive, sure Mimi's right, down the narrowing single track road which gets narrower and narrower and narrower.

Success! About a mile further on there's a flapping bit of paper nailed to a fence post. It reads 'Home schoolers', and sure enough, there's a gate, a stony track, and a barn, in a field, at the edge of a wood.

We're late, of course, but there's Richard Gere, heading off down the field with the home ed kids jumping and running and skipping behind. He certainly looks like Richard Gere. He's definitely got the haircut. And since he looks like Richard Gere I check my coiffure in the portaloo, just in case.

And while the kids are pretending to be fairies, and I've had an eyeful of Richard Gere in his shirtsleeves, out comes the picnic blanket, the flask, the biscuits, the book, and a proper day loafing about in a field can begin.

And an exhausted Mimi turns up too, probably worn out with all that driving about in fields. So I don't need to call out the AA, RAC, Emergency ambulance, police, or a man with a tractor.

Now that's about as faultless a day as it can get.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Workshop rules

We go to a workshop on renewable energy, held in the offices of a wind turbine developer. This is a hoot. It is possibly Grit's best day out for absolutely ages.

For those people who keep up with Grit's life but don't home educate, here are some of the rules that have guided today's workshop. Some rules will be applicable to workshops in other locations, such as museums, art galleries, zoos, Sainsbury's behind the scenes tour and the Planetarium.


1. Arrive at the workshop at any point. Very early, just on time, late. It doesn't matter. Wander in and out as necessary. Fetch bags from the car, carry toddlers about, use the staff toilets, demand jugs of water, rearrange the chairs or break into the cupboard where the staff keep their coffee.

2. Hover and commentate as required. Grit is good at this. 'Sit down' says the education officer to Squirrel. 'Sit down' says Grit, and hovers in a very tender motherly way. Or in an irritating nuisancy way if you're the education officer.

3. If possible, immediately zoom in on the education officer to (a) extract as much information as possible including any freebies and (b) show off about the virtues of home ed while the kids trash the room.

4. Waft the children in the direction of the increasingly beleaguered education officer and, when they're safely in her care, ignore everyone and everything to chat continuously to Sandra/ Sarah/ Sasha/ Sally/ Sonja/ Silverbell-Moonbeam whom you haven't seen in absolutely ages.

5. Get out a flask of tea / a packet of biscuits whenever you feel like it.

6. If you are asked to make a pinwheel and can see the model that's been carefully made earlier and placed on the desk, take the model apart to get at the cotton reel so the Grit family becomes hopelessly lost because their instructions don't work and there's no model to follow either, except for the one that's just been dismantled.

7. Steal Michelle's model. She has also made a good pinwheel because no-one dismantled her model and her instructions work. Try to steal that too. Unfortunately she's not letting it out of her sight but keeps shouting 'Look at my pinwheel! It works!'

8. Make sure everything is in the car ready for a proper educational session. Picnic blanket, iPod, food, drinks, wet wipes, sunhat, sunscreen, umbrella, coat for Squirrel, socks for Tiger, knickers for Shark, Chewee bars, crayons, paper, small craft items, emergency food under the car passenger seat, small bottle of picnic wine in the glove compartment, book.

9. When everything goes pear-shaped, and someone is threatening to call the security guards or the police, smile.

10. Thank the organiser. You want an invitation to the next thing they arrange. Thank you Michelle. It was really a lovely day. Can we come again?

Of course, being a good home educator, Grit makes up most of the rules as we go along and certainly doesn't follow all these rules all the time because they don't apply to her, except for rule no. 5. And today I threatened Shark with the security guards only once.


1. Immediately go to anything that can be pulled, pushed, swung round, moved or sat on, and do what it's clearly asking for. When it snaps, say 'That's not a very good design is it?'

2. Try hard to follow that ridiculous rule about putting up your hand before you speak until you realise that the education officer is actually not applying this rule consistently and just took the answer from someone who shouted it out, so shout out the answer too. Louder.

3. Pretend not to listen to anything the education officer says until asked a question designed to catch you out and then repeat everything she's said back to her, word for word.

4. Get fed up with the Noddy progress and shout out 'Global warming is caused by emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from human activities including industrial processes, fossil fuel combustion, and changes in land use. My mum told me.'*

5. Comment loudly on how the education officer is doing.

6. Shout 'Mum! I am hungry!' at any moment, especially when a biscuit packet can be heard opening covertly from Grit's bag.

7. If there is a stick anywhere about, grab it and wave it.

8. If you are Shark, Squirrel or Tiger, push each other about a bit until you are separated by a tender loving mother.

* With special thanks to Am for contributing this.

Education officer:

1. Try and keep to the script. Even when the little kid in the front row called out the punchline that you're building up to and is the whole point of the hour-long workshop and they got it in five minutes. Keep to the script to the death.

2. Pretend to be in control.

3. Try to provide the right instructions on how to make the pinwheel. Very specifically, include information on what to do with the two cardboard circles that the Grit family will be left with when they have followed the instructions and realise the pinwheel doesn't work. Because the Grit family has no model to follow, instructions that don't work, and a very agitated Shark who is being threatened with the security guards if she empties her lungs out again past that vibrating scream chord she keeps in her throat, then in all the above circumstances, pretend not to see the Grit family and cross the room to avoid them.

As before, following these rules creates just about the bestest day out a Grit can get.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Holiday planning

Grit is going on holiday! Tra-la-la! Tra-la-la! Grit's posts might become erratic now, after all, there's such a lot to do! I have to find my bikini and fold my bikini and pack my bikini, and then unpack my bikini to re-pack my bikini, and then I have to find my beauty bag and ...

OK, the bikini's just a fantasy. Along with the beauty bag. But the holiday! Tra-la-la! I've just booked a caravan in the Romney Marshes.

This is all Dig's fault. He's off again on his not-holidays, slumming it in 5-star hotels in South-east Asia and, this is Grit's mean and dark side, I can't bear it.

For a start it's not fair. He's going and I'm not. It's so not fair I could flatten myself to the floor and hammer the ground with my fists and scream until I am red in the face. Because before children, I did go. I admit I'm nothing but a freeloading good-time girl who has lived off the back of her husband's glory for more than a decade. And there's nothing wrong with that when you're being picked up at Singapore airport in a classic Mercedes, I can tell you. So now it's so cruel and horrible and heartless to leave me at home minding wretched children who I will sell for medical experiments on Day 2 of his absence because they are moaning and groaning and whimpering 'Where's Daddy?' 37 times a minute, that I now have to thump the furniture and make a stand.

'Don't think I'm staying here!' I shout to Dig, who's checking whether he can fit in a side visit to Bangladesh. 'I'm not staying at home you know!' I add, pointing to the carpet. 'I hope you realise I'm not going to be here! So I hope you don't need any fax sending out to you in Singapore again!' He's clicking through now on the BA site to see if they do a business class to Dhaka from Manila. 'I am not here!' I shout. 'I'm going to live in a caravan in the marsh! So there!'

I don't care. Well I do, obviously. But I'm jolly well not admitting it to Dig. Big Pig Dig. I'm coming over all If-he-can-do-it-I-can, all independent now, doing my own thing and dragging the kids along to Kent in the back of the car, screaming all the way, probably, when they're not wailing, 'Where's Daddy? When's Daddy coming home? Can Daddy come to live with us in the swamp?'

I should send the kids off to boarding school, then I could go off travelling the world with Big Pig Dig, who I would probably call Lovely Husband Dig then, with free cocktails and Molton Brown toiletries in a special BA Business Class bag. Then it would be Lovely Husband Dig and thank goodness the children are being looked after by proper teachers in a proper school where they can't get out because the gates are locked.

While we resolved to try and get the children travelling as much as possible with Dig, who goes everywhere telling people what to do with their commas, and despite the possibilities Dig's life offers, we're so often stymied by cost or time. The kids are aged 7 and we can't squish three of them and two of us into one hotel room. We can't shunt them off by themselves into a separate room, so we need two rooms, double the cost, preferably two interconnecting rooms, double the cost, or a suite, expensive. I can't leave them behind, and I can't go without them. Or then Dig's visits have to be quick, because he has to come home, change, and be gone in the opposite direction. Which would make the whole travel experience for children short, exhausting and unrewarding.

So Dig's planning his journey to South-east Asia and we're planning our journey to Kent. We will pop into a castle on the way and we'll travel about a bit on the South coast and stare glumly at the Channel for a few days. The children will go through Sussex to re-enact the battle of the Saxons and Normans again while I shout at them in bad French. We'll trudge up to Canterbury to get a pilgrim's meal of fish and chips in a lay-by, and we'll march down to Dover castle to stare out to sea.

All in all, we'll make the best of things in the English drizzle and Dig will come home slightly tanned and complaining about the sub-tropical heat. And I will say we had a lovely time in Kent. You should have been there. And Dig will say next time he might. But first he has to get himself to Brazil, with maybe a side visit to Argentina thrown in. And sorry about the wedding anniversary, which he will have forgotten.

And I'm looking at that North Wales caravan site again right now.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Local kids

It's Sunday, and a quiet day at The Pile. About 5.30 I take Squirrel over to the tennis courts next to the house to practice hitting the balls which I aim very carefully at her racquet. While we're there, I'm conscious of three boys hanging about the corner of the courts, suddenly breaking out into laughter, suddenly making themselves loud and known and boisterous, before they disappear out of sight, behind the hedges, away from the courts and off into the nearby streets.

When I lead Squirrel out of the courts to go home, I'm struck by the long line of metal, a long silver line, protruding through the red paintwork of a battered car parked outside the tennis court gate. The bright silver line is deep and wide and nose to tail, I'm sure that wasn't so before. I never saw such a vicious long line of metal there on the way into the courts, and I remember because the car had its side mirrors turned in. Such a careful driver, I thought, that they take the time to turn in their wing mirrors to prevent them being bumped by passing prams or bruised by colliding bags. Not much worth of an old car, but precious to the owner, to take such time.

Then the next car, nose to tail, the same silver line, paintwork still flaking, maroon. Then the white car behind, and the black, and the green, and the red again, and all twelve cars down the street, to the corner point, where the three boys bounced out and I became aware. And on the car there, a wide, deep scribble of scratched circle, round and round a pen-knife had travelled, on the rear, then the side, then the bonnet, before taking off again, and slicing the paint of another car, and another, and another five cars to the corner point. By now, I'm following the line on the third street, mouth open, walking past every car bounding the courts, every car bearing a silver penknife line until fifteen cars later the line drops.

The kids have damaged some thirty cars in all. It probably took ten minutes. I get my name and address written down in the police notebook along with descriptions of kids, dark haired, white, denim jacket, aged about 13, tee-shirt with coloured bands, one with bike. The car owners mill round; the owner of the battered red car a teenager himself; a man with a child; a member of the town's cricket team; the woman who cleans the tennis club. Some hurrying off, looking for the kids, some just staring at damage. Such casual damage, so easily done.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Dig's day

We all go to a kiddie amusement park. We have a free family pass that Shark won in a drawing competition for us last Christmas.

At first she thought of drawing two robins, each pulling one end of a worm, fighting over who got the juicy bits. I suggested, since it was a Christmas card, she might drop the worm and don't mention the fighting. Strangely she was happy to follow that idea and, apart from the worm that's not there, it's all her own work. And she won. Two Robins Talking is the title of Shark's Christmas drawing and it got printed and made into a real card. We're very proud of her for that. We'd like to show off a lot about it. Quite frankly, we don't have a lot to show off about, so we have to grab what we can.

Anyway, today's the day we use the free family pass. I tell Dig he has to come. It has been his birthday and there should be something we do. I reckon that a kiddie amusement park might be it. Dig looks indifferent. He says it is a waste of time and money, even though it's not costing him anything. He just looks a bit sulky, being peeled off his computer at 11.30 on a Saturday morning, and looks like he might be secretly determining not to enjoy himself.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger love the kiddie park. They love the plastic of it all: the bubblegum colours and the sparkling carousel horses and the fairground rides that swing them up and swoosh them round. They love the boats and the funny tea cups and the musical instruments they get to sit on and ride. They draw up a hit list: the carousel, the tea cups, the train, the ferris wheel.

Dig says he doesn't like anything. He says he'll go on the spinning tea cups but only if he can teach Squirrel something about momentum. Then he says he'll take Tiger on the monorail you have to pedal yourself. He heads off there and is back in two minutes, scowling, with a relieved Tiger in tow, saying it's typical, it's closed, so he starts to eat cheese sandwiches and grumble a bit about the weather.

Next, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger want to go off to the revolving swing thing where everyone sits in swings and gets spun round. I say I'm not going because last year I was sick after the tea cups and, what's worse, we had to pay to get in for me to be sick then, so I'm not going on them now. Dig volunteers to go on it with everyone. I say it's not necessary but he doesn't seem to hear me, even though I'm right next to him.

When he's off that, Squirrel and Tiger bound off to the swinging pirate ship, which Shark doesn't want to go on. Momentarily, Shark looks all alone. Dig tells her he'll take her on the roller coaster, which she says she's not sure about because it looks very big and very fast. Dig tells her not to be silly while he's strapping her in. After that Dig goes on the roller coaster a total of ten times with different children, sometimes Shark, sometimes Squirrel, sometimes Tiger.

After Tiger's third go on the roller coaster, I begin to suspect Dig is offering doubtful parents some sort of chaperone service for timid children because it's quite difficult to get him off it. In fact we can only get him to come down by suggesting there's a really brilliant log flume thing where you sit in little boats, get pushed down a pretend waterfall, and may get sprayed with water when you hit the bottom at 30 mph. He goes on that three times before I lure him off it by saying Tiger wants a go on the spinning boots.

At 6pm there's groans and wailing all round when I say it's time to go home because the park closes. I suggest that we could get season tickets if everyone really enjoyed it that much. Tiger, Shark and Squirrel squeal with delight at the idea.

Dig goes all thoughtful for a moment and asks which parent would get the season ticket to accompany them. Well, I say, I look after the kids everyday, so in practical terms it would have to be me. 'Oh' says Dig. Then he rather sadly says, 'So I'll have to buy my own, then?'

Friday, 18 May 2007


It's a bit of an unsatisfactory day at the Pile. Here's why.

1. We miss the art group in Middletown thanks to the 30 copies of Dig's book that have to go off with DHL which means a cardboard box, sticky tape, finding the books ... call it four hours.

2. Grit has a temper tantrum because Dig, Big Pig Dig, will not ring DHL even though they are very nice and never once have failed to help me out. I have asked the nice people on the phones at DHL if they do counselling or anything like that, but strangely they just laugh and think I am making a joke.

3. Dig has a temper tantrum and it is all Fat Git Grit because Fat Git Grit slams the phone about.

Now in my defence I have to slam the phones about. There are precisely three identical phones on the desk to my right. One of them I have to press 9 to get from the office to the outside world. One of them I get a lady who tells me there's no service because there's a problem with our bill, and the other is a normal phone. Just pick it up and press the buttons. Not surprisingly I once mistook the normal phone with the one where I have to press 9. So I pick up the phone and press 9. No dialling tone. So I press 9 again. And again. Then I shout a lot of eff words and slam the phone down. One minute later the police ring back because apparently I have rung them and shouted a lot of eff words at them. Anyway, that's why I have to slam all the phones about. I have to find one with a dial tone and no lady, and no police either.

4. I have to take Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to their swimming lesson which I rearranged from Wednesday. We are 15 minutes late thanks to circumstances 1, 2 and 3.

Disaster. Fish, the swimming teacher, has gone home, as has the second lifeguard who must be there. I am immediately challenged by the new lifeguard who says I cannot bring into the pool three children under the age of 8 by myself, even though they can swim. I say where is Fish? Where is the second lifeguard? This is our swimming lesson and I'm not leaving. Make me.

Big to-do and fetch another lifeguard who we recognise. She immediately starts making up rules like, you can stay because we know you and you are the parent. 'Bring in five children under age 8' she says, 'we won't stop you'. Grit goes humph and is still cross that Fish pushed off.

5. Get home and find all the library books that were due back today are stuffed behind the radiator.

6. Find a large pot of gone-off cream in the corner of the schoolroom with a spoon stuck in the top. Everyone denies having anything to do with it. Tiger looks suspicious.

So all of the above is why I'm feeling very sulky and difficult. Apart from the nice man at DHL picking up all the books I am not sure where the achievement is today. A most unsatisfactory day.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Dig's birthday

It is Thursday, and time for celebration. It is Dig's birthday.

Everything starts off OK, except that I forget it's Dig's birthday and suddenly shout out 'Is it your birthday?' over a breakfast cup of coffee. Then we have to plan everything. Shark plans a card, which she hides and which Daddy has to find, as part of a birthday game. Tiger makes a cobweb with the glue gun and a toilet roll. Squirrel gets distracted and goes off to play with her dinosaurs before remembering she had a plan and getting Tiger to knock out another cobweb as a second birthday present.

I haven't got any presents to give. I ran out of ideas about 12 years ago and then Dig did absolutely nothing for my 40th so I reckon zero on the gift front is probably fair. I suppose I could offer my body, but he probably wouldn't want that. But when the excitement of the presents is all over, we all push off out the house to gym lessons leaving Dig to get on with some work. We promise to come back later and make cake. Dig sighs.

The plan to make cake goes quite well until the actual cake-making. I manage to mess that up by calculating the wrong amount of flour so have to get Tiger to keep beating eggs and pouring milk into the cake bowl, which is quite a hard thing to do with Squirrel's fingers darting in and out the mix and Shark shouting 'Where's the chocolate?'

Nevertheless, we manage to get to party tea time with an actual baked chocolate cake with lumpy bits in. The candles are lit, the moment duly photograhed and I forget to make Dig wear the big badge that reads It's My Birthday.

The children insist the candles are lit at least twenty times, and Dig is very good about it and keeps on wishing, probably for us all to go away and leave him in peace with his computer. But he never says, otherwise it won't come true, and he blows out the candles quite properly too. He never once set fire to his beard. He wouldn't have laughed about it if he had. My mother once burned off her eyebrows and eyelashes after sticking her head in the gas oven and she could manage a smile after that. I know it sounds unlikely, but that's the sort of family that Grit comes from. We have to laugh at our disasters because otherwise they would overwhelm us and the despair would swallow us whole.

So Dig's birthday passed peacefully enough, albeit that the candle bit took about half an hour, and another year is passed and marked. Next up, wedding anniversary.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


Well that throwaway comment about the disconnection was prescient.

Today we get from British Gas a threat that they're not only coming round to disconnect us, they're bringing the police with them. Perhaps they've heard about Shark's tiara. Or perhaps they reckon that because there's such a police presence out in Smalltown now what with the murder, poor bloke, they may as well dragoon a few coppers on the way in case we all get violent with the puffin again.

So it's back on the computer for Grit, writing letters, enclosing evidence, demanding an apology that we won't get. We never got one last time. Probably along with several other million people.

Of course what gets Grit's goat is that we've actually paid this bill from British Gas. We paid the ruddy thing ages ago, so of course we're going to ignore their reminders and then last week's threat of disconnection. Actually, I did try telephoning, three times, but a recorded voice tells me it's a 25-minute wait and then drops the line.

So we've had enough. We've had enough of the appalling service and the bullying and intimidatory language that organisations like British Gas think is quite acceptable when dealing with people. Right, now out comes the soap box. Because it's not just bullying and intimidation so that they can get the money for the flippin' gas we use. Oh no, it's bullying and intimidation to try and force me to comply with their boggering administrative practices so that we fit more precisely into their 'streamlined efficient business computer system' they just spent a great wodge of money installing.

Well, sod off British Gas. I'm not fitting into your model of a consumer for your convenience and we're changing supplier. We're disconnecting you.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007


Mrs W has asked us to sell 30 copies of a book that Dig wrote ages ago to her company. This is a disaster. We do not sell books. We tried and then we gave up, because, quite frankly, bookselling is something we are rubbish at.

Sometimes we still get foolhardy adventurers who travel to the company website where they will encounter a big sign that says, in short, 'Push Off! We do not sell books!' I would like to add, 'Go to a proper distributor who does not have to look after argumentative triplets all day long, or nick it from the library'.

However, if the foolish idiot is really determined, they will work hard to find our address, probably somewhere hidden in an obscure serifed typeface at 2pt, and they will send us a nice letter and a cheque for £15.99. This is also a disaster.

For a start, when a cheque arrives here, no-one notices, because no-one opens the mail. Well, we do, eventually, usually if there's a visitor and we need to see if we are going to have the bailiffs call while they're here, or if the gas or electricity supply might be disconnected before they arrive and we can't make a cup of tea without a primer stove and a candle. In effect, we are simply not very good at any form of household management involving paperwork.

If we do open the envelope, and a cheque falls out, we stare at it and Dig says things like 'Put it in the shredder'. When I say it will cover the cost of three bottles of cheap wine from Chile, and all we have to do is go to the Post Office, Dig starts to roll his eyes around and tut.

Here's why. The poor foolish twit who wants the book will have asked for a book which we won't be able to find. We'll have a few copies somewhere, sure, but they could be buried in the Mr Trebus piles that have now built up floor to ceiling.

If we do find a copy, it will be one of the boxes the printer dumped, or where he did a cheap deal out the back door with us for twenty quid for the run-ons. It'll be the copies where the green print went a bit funny on the cover or the ones where the pages haven't been cut properly or the box where the mice went to have babies.

So we will have a mouse-eaten/funny green/badly cut book and we need an envelope. Oh dear. We're too mean to buy envelopes - sorry, environmentally conscious - however we will have some envelopes where we scribble out our names and write in the new receiver, but that doesn't look very good if you're selling things. So that will lead us onto Viking suppliers for a box of envelopes. Actually, they might be so delighted at our returning custom they might throw in another free coffee maker that breaks down on cup number two just like they did once before.

If we do, by some miracle, manage to marry up the book and envelope, three months after the cheque for £15.99 arrived, then Dig has to find the right folder on the computer where all the purchase orders, invoices and receipts for books are kept. This was probably on the old computer system; we won't be able to remember what the file was called or the files won't open, and if they do it will be gobblydegook inside. If we manage to create a new receipt, by then we will have lost the address of the idiot who wanted the book in the first place four months ago.

After another week or so, we might get down the post office with the envelope, the book, the address and the paperwork inside. If we are really motoring, I will also manage to get to the bank to cash in the cheque for £15.99 before the six month date limit expires.

Then the trouble starts.

Everything has to entered on Dig's accounts. This is a real big disaster area. I mean, real BIG. We still have not sent in the accounts that we get fined for in January if we don't get them in by the 31st. Was that January 2006 or January 2007? I ask Dig. Since he no longer answers questions about the accounts, and I no longer dare ask, we're not actually going to find out the answer to that one. The accountant no longer asks either. He just smiles when Dig turns up with some boxes and then charges a lot of money to make the fines go away for another few months. So the foolish twit who wanted a copy of Dig's book has now entered the great accounting mountain which will wend its way to the accountant, probably between 2009/2011.

All of this will have taken probably six hours of our time spread over the six months. Say we modestly charged out our time at £50 per hour, we're looking at a £300 loss for a £15.99 gain (a proportion of which will be taxed).

So I can understand Dig's reluctance. I'll concur and pretend the cheque never reached us, and drop it in the shredder. And if the maniac who wanted the book in the first place is so very desperate that he feels he must visit the office to buy a copy here and now, we'll just have to hide behind the sofa when he calls.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Attempted murder

Trouble in Smalltown. About 9.30 last night there was a bit of a rumpus outside the local Co-op. Some poor bloke is critical in hospital and the would-be murderer is arrested along with the rest of his family.

I find out this morning when I pop out for dishwasher powder; an errand I'm rather glad I didn't do last night about 9.30. Two riot vans today in the street outside and a copper standing by the garden gate of a house five doors from us. He has his arms folded, like he's guarding the house. He is, so we discover, while searches are carried out and a vehicle's towed away.

All the neighbours are out and about today, just like us, pretending to be busy about errands like getting dishwasher powder. If we had a dog, I'd walk it right now, because I hear there are more riot vans down Caesar Street and a cordoned-off area by the bank.

We should be used to it by now. We had all this after the recent trouble at the local Place of Religious Worship. For about a month afterwards you couldn't move on the streets for police. They were either walking about in pairs or installing mobile cameras or putting up signs on lamp posts telling everyone they're being watched so report it to Crimestoppers now. Apparently this is all to reassure the public, whoever they are.

Of course, I don't want to give the impression that Smalltown is some sort of crime central. All of this is normal, isn't is? Smalltown's probably normal. There was the owner of a taxi firm we used who took out a contract on her husband. She got found out, thanks to the hitman being an undercover policeman. The local kidnapping was a bad deal though. And the stabbing down the back lane was a bit depressing. The helicopters were around for days after the Co-op raid. How we all laughed though when a cannabis factory was discovered in the cellar of a house just round the corner. And Mr Pod says his mate was found last week mugged in a gutter after popping down the pub at the bottom of the road, which is the place to go round here if you're looking for Charlie, Disco Burgers, Smack and Strawbs, apparently.

Oh the joy of it. I could move to the countryside of course. Then I'd have to listen to tales of poaching, cattle and sheep rustling, illegal hare coursing, badger baiting, illegal dumping and the odd country estate murder. And there'd be not a policeman in sight for weeks, maybe months.

With the level of service we'll get round here for a while I guess it'll be safe to leave the car unlocked with the tom-tom sat nav inside. Well, that'll be a relief, because I'm always leaving the car unlocked with the tom-tom sat nav inside. So on second thoughts, perhaps I'll just stay put. And at least I can forget about the tom-tom sat nav for a while.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Grey hair

It's no good. It's that time again.

When it's over, all I can say is that if this is the tawny bronze, thank goodness I didn't go for the chestnut.

Saturday, 12 May 2007


Tiger, Shark and Squirrel start tennis lessons today. This does not go well. I tell the young man who is coaching to split up the triplet sisters.

'Split them up!' I say when I deliver a Tiger, hot-bothered and hungry, straight from her 8.50am violin lesson. 'Don't forget to split them up!' I say, as I deliver a grumpy Squirrel who resents leaving her bed anytime before 10am without a very good reason indeed. 'Now be sure to split them up!' I cry, as I push towards him a cross Shark who suspects a thief in the night has come to steal away her tiara.

Now what more can I do? I gave sufficient warnings, and he only has himself to blame.

The first ruckus starts in the queue. This is a queue to swing a racquet wildly in the air when the coach throws a ball. Tiger thinks Squirrel is taking up more space than a Squirrel needs to take up. Tiger starts pushing Squirrel, who pushes back. Tiger pushes harder. Squirrel gets pushed into Amy, who is cute and has ringlets and who does not deserve to be fed to a cross Squirrel at 9.40am on a Saturday morning. Fortunately Amy is made of stronger stuff than she looks and delivers a sharp poke back. The pushing continues until everyone gets told off and then gets told to go and fetch all the balls that have been thrown about the court.

The next ruckus is between Shark and Tiger. They are meant to throw the balls to each other. Oh dear. There is a difference of opinion between Shark and Tiger. Shark throws the ball so that Tiger cannot possibly reach it. Tiger runs off to fetch it, brings it back, and aims it directly at Shark's head. Shark ducks, the ball skims past the coach who should know better, and Shark runs off to pick up her weapon. Back she comes with it and bounces it high in the air so that Tiger cannot possibly catch it. When Tiger does find it, she picks it up, turns her back to Shark and throws the ball in the opposite direction. When the coach intervenes neither will look at each other, Tiger crosses her arms and starts to stomp about the court like she's at a Nuremberg rally.

Ruckus number three starts when there's a slight confusion over the racquets, despite Dig carefully marking each one with coloured wire. More pushing. Some grabbing of tennis racqets. Some wailing. Some more of the coach intervening telling everyone to calm down. He's probably starting to remember now.

Ruckus number four starts when Tiger accuses Squirrel and Shark of having more balls thrown at them than she has had. The coach throws an extra ball at Tiger who misses it and accuses Squirrel and Shark of always hitting the ball when she always misses it. This is clearly not true. They all miss it. The coach looks like he's despairing a bit now. Perhaps he'll remember for next time.

Ruckus number five starts at the end of the tennis session. Squirrel has collected five balls by using her racquet as a tray and is proudly taking them to the coach to put into his bucket. Shark and Tiger think this is a good idea and go and take them from her tray. Squirrel goes beserk at this assualt and starts to lunge at the balls in Shark's hands. The coach probably is thinking now he'll assign them to different courts next time.

Ruckus number six starts when it's time to say thank you and goodbye. Shark looks relieved and Squirrel looks cross. Tiger doesn't want it to end and foot drags her way slowly across the court, scowling all the time and loudly encouraged by the coach who looks a bit desperate for a cup of tea.

Perhaps he'll remember next week.

Friday, 11 May 2007


Tiger claims she is hungry. She claims she is hungry at very inopportune moments, like lights-out at bed-time, or going out the door on the way to French, or being asked to put on wellington boots for a nature walk.

Now at first I was giving into this. Out would come the oaty biscuit and the warm milkshake; from the bread basket would be delivered a fresh fruity bun to eat in the car; then all would stop for fifteen minutes for some toast and honey.

And I began to get suspicious, mostly because of the timing. I can smell a rat, I think. So I've eased up on the instant food and suggested waiting till the next mealtime.

This could be a disaster. Tiger is now evidently feeling the deprivation and settling in for a famine. A few days ago I discover a banana under the bedroom carpet. I discover half a Weetabix in a dressing gown pocket, just as it's heading to the washing machine. I find a crudely-made jam sandwich wedged down the back of the hall table and a slice of hairy fruity bun under the toy box on the landing. This is before the apple in the doll basket and the Chewee bar under the computer table. Clearly, Tiger reckons hard times might be ahead.

I'm hoping that Tiger's stores of feast piles - particularly the ones yet undiscovered - do not encourage the local wildlife. Or, to be more specific, Roland and all his little ratty friends.

We have had a rat before. This was no cutesy little bachelor fella called Tomkins. This was a livin' it large party rat who crept in through a broken airbrick under the office floor, and after a few days of nicking the cereal on the quiet decided it was time to swing out big time and began to dance about the floor at 3am every morning doing juggling acts with a bag of potatoes and some spanners. Probably the local mice were bussed in as the audience because there was a suspicious disappearance of a bar of my very favourite cooking chocolate at about the same time.

This was not our first rat, either. The very first rat came to visit us at the Family Pile in Northumberland two years ago and scared Dig half to death by leaping out from behind the toaster at 10 am one morning. For a man who doesn't wear trousers until midday, this was a very scary moment. I sympathised, shouted 'I'm off' and got Shark, Squirrel and Tiger into the car to head back down south within seconds, leaving Uncle Eff to sort it out with the rat killer. That rat was clearly Hard Head Harry Rat of the North East. It didn't go quietly. It gnawed half way through the door, destroyed a tea tray and ripped the carpets up before it left. I'm surprised it didn't scrawl 'I'll be back' on the walls in red paint as a parting shot.

So if Tiger's little feasts entice any of these furry friends back again, well, I'm not apologising. I'll be back on the phone to Mrs Rat Murderer from the council who comes round in her very discreet white van and does a nice job with some little blue pellets.

Which would be brilliant. As long as Tiger doesn't find them.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Sasha's granny

We must have been horrible to Sasha. She has not replied to our emails since I threw her out of the car at Suburban Airport on the way home from the Rodin workshop on clay at the end of April. Admittedly, the departure was not that good, with the fists flying in the background and Shark shouting 'Go away!', but I did tell Sasha that Shark wasn't talking to her as I removed her bags from the back of the car. Of course I had to be quick about it because they charge me at that car park if I'm there more than 10 minutes.

Anyway, Sasha has finally replied to us with an email.

Sasha apologises and says she would love to come and spend some time with us over summer and teach us German. She says she could not reply sooner because she has had exams. She said that she had to go to Magdeburg to pick things up. Then she says she was going to reply last week but her granny fell out of a train.

I think Sasha might fit into Grit's world quite nicely.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Difficult, home educated, shoeless, and late

We have to do something about this speech problem. Half the time I can't understand Squirrel, especially over dinner when she's got her mouth full of mashed potato and begins the prosecution routine. Most unbecoming for a lawyer-to-be.

Anyway, when it's not the mashed potato or the lentil burger or the stew which she loves, or the cereal, or the cheesy rice - honestly, I'm taking the plates away from her when she starts - when it's not all of the above, then I have to come down to the conclusion that Squirrel's speech is getting worse. And if it's not getting worse, it's certainly not getting any better.

Squirrel, Shark and Tiger have always tended to the speech style of 'dug' for 'jug', 'dis' for 'this' and 'dat' for 'sat'. But most kids grow out of it. Well, not ours.

'Are we going to see the bikings?' says Squirrel in anticipation of a history festival.
'The bikings?' I ask. 'Who's biking? Where's the bike?'
'The bikings in the Dark Ages' answers Squirrel. I gently move away her plate of pasta and tomato sauce.
'Eh? They didn't have bikes in the Dark Ages' I answer. Since Squirrel's usually such a good prosecutor, I am bound to have fallen into her trap. Unwittingly I will have confessed to a crime like eating the last slice of chocolate cake, which OK, I did do, but there was no-one else around and it would have gone off. Anyway, because she's such a good prosecutor, I look at Dig for reassurance and ask, 'No-one did go biking in the Dark Ages, did they?'
'The bikings!' shouts Squirrel in glee, assuming I'm off again on what she calls Mummy rubbish. 'You know the bikings, mummy. After the Celts!'

Ah, we're not talking about biking in the Dark Ages, are we? No, we're talking about the Vikings.

For a start I blame being a triplet. Tiger can sound her 'f'. Squirrel can sound her 's', just. And Shark can definitely sound 'th' and 'j'. But as soon as they start talking together, then out comes the triplet language. We call it the doo-bee-doo. And they're still doing it.

I console myself with Shark. At least she can do her 'f' sound now. She can say fish. This is good. She used to pronouce the 'f' as 'p' which gets us to pish, but then the 'sh' became just another 's'. Thank goodness it doesn't anymore. Because Shark's interest in fish has got us a few troubled looks from the woman at the library in our time. As we trawl through the books, my five year old Shark has been known to shout out in glee, 'I've got a book on piss!'

But we're still not there, that goal of lovely clear pronunciation of 'f' and 'p' and 'th' and 's' and 'j'.

Of course we could always go back to the Speech Therapist. Ah, of course. The Speech Therapist. Now I apologise if I've told you this tale of grit and woe before.

Grit, being a dedicated mother, worries, of course, over her five-year olds tripletty speech issues and drags everyone off to the Speech Therapist. This is a disaster.

At the first meeting it's just me and all the other concerned mums. I have to leave half-way through because I have a French session booked for our home educated children. That's home educated, I explain. They're not at school. First naughty mark and stare from the Speech Therapist (ST).

Then ST sits me down with all the other mummies and within seconds I am going bonkers in my head. She makes me play stupid games about 'Who am I?' and 'What are you feeling today?' 'You are aged six and someone didn't undertand you.' I think I am in the wrong place. They clearly don't understand me. I am aged 45. I have been a professional communicator. I have written articles. I have written advertising copy. I want to get out one of my old ads and say, 'Look! I wrote that!' I am not aged 6. So of course I won't play. I get all subversive and start changing the rules. Second naughty mark and stare from ST.

The second session doesn't get any better. It is me and Squirrel, Shark and Tiger with the other mummies and their daughters Lucy and Pauline who are in school uniform and already promptly in the first big proper session at 9.15. We are late. Naughty mark from ST. I get told we are making it more difficult for Lucy and Pauline. Be on time next time or else.

So I sit down with the mummies of Lucy and Pauline and keep my mouth shut. We can watch the children being led through the language session on a little TV in another room, so we can see what the ST does. She holds up cuddly crocodiles and lots of cards and gets the children to say words. Looks like what we do at home. Then, disaster. ST says, 'Who can line up to play a game?' Oh, foolish woman. I watch the inevitable as Shark, Squirrel and Tiger knock over a table in their haste to join forces, sending the cuddly crocodiles flying, and ST's game sprawling across the floor; they're grabbing each other, and forming a wall across Lucy and Pauline who are cowering under the window. Lucy and Pauline look like they've been taken hostage in Toddler's Beirut. Lucy bursts into tears and has to be led from the session. I get told to suggest to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger what lining up means for the next game. Very naughty mark and very big stare from ST.

The third session was the worst of all.

It just so happened that it was the day that the Washing Machine Man called to look at the broken washing machine. Dig didn't have any trousers on, of course, being only 9am in the morning, so I had to let in Washing Machine Man and point out the washing machine, and press buttons that did nothing and say, 'look, now it does nothing'.

Then I look at the clock. More disaster. It is 9.20. ST's session begins at 9.15. I suddenly stop talking to Washing Machine Man and scream at the children to get in the car. On the way out I scream at Dig to get his trousers on.

Window wipers on at full pelt we turn into the car park of ST's office at about 40 mph, screech to an emergency stop and throw the doors open to let the junior Grits fall out onto the wet gravel. Running down to ST's office I can hear behind me Squirrel, squeaking 'Mummy! Mummy!' I turn around to see Squirrel, hopping over the puddles. She's not wearing any shoes.

Suffice to say, there was no session four.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Skin beautiful

I'm hearing a lot right now about this Boots Protect and Perfect serum which does something for wrinkles. Apparently, so the scientist on the radio says, it contains lipo-something which does something for collagen and produces fibi-something which in turn supports the skin like a mattress. Since I have skin a bit like an old mattress I could do with some of that.

Then I remember.

It just so happens that about a month ago I bought something from Boots, and the perfumed lady gave me a small promotional tube of this magic Protect and Perfect lotion. I never tried it. With growing horror, I'm sure I recall that in the last few days it went into a black bin liner with the household rubbish.

So today I might be found face down in the bin bags in the yard, grovelling around the rubbish and sifting every item in the search of this elixir.

Of course this is not about vanity. It is to save us all from landfills.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Not funny

We're in shifts again. I took Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to Rockingham Castle yesterday so Dig could work, and today Dig takes the kids to a local Medieval Day, leaving me at home. I'm typesetting a depressing book on the language use in rape trials. Every half hour I need to wander round the house to avoid 'She asked for it'. So there's nothing funny there.

In the evening Aunty Dee calls up, and there's nothing funny there either. Aunty Dee speaks only to Dig because I'm slogging away with the 'Cases cited'. When Dig's finished on the phone I ask for the latest news.

Vee's been staying with Dee, he says. Vee is Dee's twin sister. Vee is an evangelical Christian who sells harps. She can't have been in Northumberland to unscrew the shelves or pull up the carpet from the Family Pile, I think. For a start, she's already done it, and second up, the house is sold last December and gone to the revolting Scrimvers.

I try and be interested in Vee's movements. 'How's Todd?' I ask. Todd is Vee's husband. 'Not there,' replies Dig. 'He's gone on holiday to South Wales with his cancer support group.'

So, not much fun there then, either. Anything else? I ask.
'Bill's in hospital with a stomach complaint' says Dig.
I say, 'Does this face look bothered?' I think this might be witty.

Dig looks shocked and asks what I mean. 'Bill can drop dead for all I care' I add, looking down my nose. Bill's the boyfriend to Uncle Eff and the catalyst that caused the sale of the Family Pile in Northumberland.

'Not that Bill' tuts Dig. Bill's also the name of Shark, Tiger and Squirrel's little cousin who lives in Gateshead. He's aged five.

It's just not a funny kind of day.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

History day

We're off to Rockingham Castle today for the multi-period history show. We like history. We are amateur historians. We have even been members of the Sealed Knot. How cool is that?

Actually we were rubbish at it. We never showed up to meetings, musters or anything else. I got as far as buying some cotton for the kirtles. The cotton's still in the box where I keep the rest of the fabric I've bought to make period costumes with.

Anyway, I thought we would do well, being amateur historians. Squirrel, Shark and Tiger sometimes correct me when I get my Henry 2's mixed up with my Edward 1's. So you'd think that a multi-period history show in Rockingham Castle would be a good place to show off.

So that's just what I do. I try to show off with Squirrel, Shark and Tiger. Tiger's been in bad mood all day long but I ignore it. I reckon I could manage a loud, casual, unplanned conversation with Shark in front of the woman selling 15th century styled dresses, like, 'Do you think Eleanor of Aquitaine would wear this?' And I'll point to a Tudor style dress and Shark will say 'Oh no! She would wear something different!'

(At this point I would like something like 'dearest mamma' tagged onto the end, but I'm still working on that.) Then the woman selling 15th century styled dresses would say, 'Oh my goodness, your children know about Henry II?' 'Oh yes', I'll say with a little smug smile, 'They're home educated.' All the children will glow and I will be very proud indeed.

At this point in my unplanned conversation, if I'm feeling on sure ground, and the woman selling 15th century styled dresses doesn't actually look like a history teacher in her day job and won't end up fighting with me over the National Curriculum, then I'll add, 'We think the history curriculum in school is appalling. After fifteen years of Henry VIII and Adolf Hitler, what do schoolchildren know about history?' And then I'll raise my eyebrows and share a knowing, sympathetic smile with the woman selling 15th century styled dresses, who will nod in an understanding and supportive way.

OK, well it didn't go like that.

We get to the tent where the woman selling 15th century styled dresses is standing. Tiger's still in a sulk. I deliver my opening gambit to Shark. But Shark's not listening, because over the other side of the field Shark has seen an irish wolfhound, the size of a Shetland pony, being led about by a couple of women trying not to look windswept circa the 1350s, and Shark immediately starts to back away with that frozen look on her face under the 15th century clothes rail.

I step back too, but unfortunately I'm wearing a backpack about as large as can be possibly strapped to a human being, and I knock over the tailor's dummy that the woman selling 15th century styled dresses is using to display a velvet cream hand-stitched glory that costs £75 for the outer garment alone. While she's picking it up with a not altogether happy look on her face and I'm apologising for that, Squirrel starts on her prosecuting lawyer routine.

'Why do you always say that?' she whines, ignorant of the faux pax and not having seen the wolfhound, but having heard the injustice of me using Shark's name.
'Not now', I say, under my breath, trying to shoo Squirrel out towards the sulky Tiger, nod continuing apologies to the woman selling 15th century styled dresses, and reassure Shark that actually the wolfhound is a mile away and not looking at her. But Squirrel's having none of it.
'You always only ask my sisters to look at things. You never ask me!'
'That's not true' I whisper. This is foolish: at this point I should ignore her.
'Did you just ask Shark to come and look at the costume? she shouts, not moving, finger raised.
'Yes' I say.
'Did you think I would like to look at the costume?' comes Squirrel's quick reply.
'Do you mind?' I retort in my best hoity-toity voice. I am not in the dock after all, and right now I am trying to get everyone out the tent towards the savage wolfhound that's a mile away before the woman selling 15th century styled dresses notices the mud stain I've probably added to her velvet cream confection.
'Mummy! You always ask Shark and you did not ask me!' shouts Squirrel in her loudest, most hard-done-by voice.

Now, this is the point of disaster. Because I give in. I say, 'OK then, Shark and Tiger and Squirrel, would you all like to look at the costumes?'
'Yes!' shouts Squirrel, and Tiger stares at the grass, glumly. Shark's only too glad to get back into the tent.

I start to walk back slowly to the woman selling 15th century styled dresses who's watching me a bit more carefully now. I turn around to face Squirrel, and what happens? I give the newly re-erected velvet cream confection another bash with the backpack. As it's teetering from side to side and the woman selling her 15th century styled dresses lunges towards it to save it from crashing to the ground, all is failure once more, and there's only one thing I can say.

'Oh bloody hell, I've done it again.'

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Click click click

I am in a very vague and wandery-about mood, so if my sentences might trail off or stop without warning, my grammatical bits get wobbly, my metaphors lie down for a bit of a nap or I make no sense whatsoever. Well, that's just what you get if you cross an empty room to an open door and drop into Jimbo from Stoke on Trent, who likes going on the razzle with George, or Tina from Crewe, who doesn't.

It all starts thanks to the lexicographical analysis, which I have to typeset and which I don't want to because it is very boring indeed and the author uses very long sentences to send me to sleep, and probably even his mum, who he's dedicated the book to, so I take to clicking around some blogs. Now I apologise to everyone everywhere but this is a bus ticket to oblivion.

Because shortly I'm not looking at home education blogs anymore, oh no. Someone was foolish enough to enclose an intriguing link on their blog and within seven minutes I've hopped through to someone in the US who eats cheese. Then I'm off again, clicking on someone who likes cooking fish and then someone who just found out she had a half-brother before stumbling over some sad, sad student in South east Asia who's had an argument with her mum, so her mum sends her some pictures of anorexic girls, and then I have to go there now and Ugh urgh urgh for a good ten minutes before wandering off to let my eyes slide over some fat issues from a feminist persective, and how to avoid getting fat by thinking, and from that point I'm slid away. I have no more willpower, focus or intent and am just a gigantic index finger on a mouse button going click click click.

I'm not just hopping about from country to country, telling myself it's educational research on today's youth culture and not to worry if black-eyed beans are burning because Suz says you can always use vinegar to get the carbon off. Not at all, I'm wandering about anything and anywhere, watching a man slide downstairs on a tea tray and a dodo playing the harp; a woman who's in love with her dog and a man who's cheating on his two wives and I'm one hour fifty minutes into this pit when the door opens and there's Dig, come to see how functional syntax is getting along.

My goodness, that's the first bit of prompt reaction and focus I've shown in the best part of the last two hours. I've just been clicking through a website on how to have an affair without your partner finding out. Apparently, spending hours on the computer is a give-away. And I'm calling up that screen on functional syntax quicker than you can say Lord dodo.

Actually I quite liked Lord dodo playing the harp. See if you can find it.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Not anything

Grit is not in a good mood.

Scheduling is not my strong point. I am not an organiser. I sometimes say things like 'Yes! Book us in for the sofa-making workshop on Tuesday!' Then 20 minutes later I am saying 'I don't think we are doing anything on Tuesday. Put us down for four tickets to see the childrens version of that 3-hour monologue on cannibalism'. Then when I get home I see that every Tuesday for the last two years we go to French club.

Anyway, today we have ended up in no places doing nothing.* And this time, it is not all the fault of my dreadful organisation.

We start off with the not art and play. I like art and play. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger disappear to fight over who gets to play with Am in the garden. Then I get to have tip-top quality chat time with Jol and Michelle and Bee and all the nice home ed ladies who do not run off and hide when they see me like some do. But today we did not go to art and play because we had not horseriding and not swimming.

Next, we did not go swimming. We already missed our lesson on Wednesday but Fish always says 'Never mind! Just call the desk and tell me what time you want on Friday!' Fish is a very nice swimming teacher and not at all bossy, like I've read they can be.

So I call this morning. Unfortunately I do not speak to the nice Fish. I speak to the awkward Jelly. Jelly says Fish is not there. Jelly will not take a message for Fish. Jelly will not give me Fish's mobile number which I already have but cannot find. Jelly will not give me Fish's home number even though Fish has already given it to me and I cannot find that either. Four phone calls later and I have still not got hold of Fish but just keep getting the awkward Jelly. By then it is time to go to horseriding so I have to give up swimming. I say to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, 'Never mind, at least there's horseriding.' Not.

We all get in the car to go to the stables. We are late. This is partly because Glastonbury, the visiting gardener, has come to pull the ivy away from the flues and gutters and decide it is all the neighbour's fault because it is their ivy, and it is partly the fault of Squirrel, who says she wants to wear her new denim skirt with the loveheart pockets and I say you cannot get on a horse with your skirt with the loveheart pockets unless you sit sidesaddle. So this negotiation over denim skirts and leggings delays us by 10 minutes.

When we arrive at the stables the lady is not in a good mood with us. We are late and she says she cannot extend our time because she has to cook lunch, so there. Now at this point I might just be able to start some negotiation, but then Squirrel, Shark and Tiger see a dog.

Squirrel, Shark and Tiger are terrified of dogs. They are even terrified of mongrel Lucy, the stable dog, who is aged 17, blind in one eye and disabled in one back leg. Lucy doesn't really walk but spins round because of her dodgy leg. Actually the spinning bit is a little scary, but you can tell by the way Lucy's fur is coming out that she is a very old dog and not likely to do any savaging of any creature in the near, medium or long term.

As soon as Squirrel, Shark and Tiger see Lucy the one-eyed, three-legged mongrel dog, they start to scream. I mean really scream. Tiger climbs up my back in her terror shouting 'Mummy help me! Mummy help me!' She gets to my head and knocks off my glasses onto the stable floor. Squirrel is hanging on my arm and knocks my shoulder bag to the floor, spilling all the contents out. Shark is clinging onto the only available leg I have because the other is buckling under the weight of Tiger. The whole unbalanced weight of our bodily edifice is pulling me over, and I will go because of the weight of Tiger. It is only with the application of my elbows to Tiger that I stop myself from falling over and crushing Squirrel.

Now this would be funny if I were not at the centre of it, and if the stable lady were not watching this performance with her arms crossed, wearing a very impatient expression indeed. Lucy is doing her spin-walk manouevre as fast as she can to hide under the table. She will probably crawl off to die and that's another black mark against Grit and all the little junior Grits.

It's not surprising that the stable lady isn't really in the mood to negotiate, the lesson ends before it begins and we all go in ignominy home. On the way home in the car I try to tutor Shark, Squirrel and Tiger in some tactics of how to behave with people when you want something from them. I tell them a good tactic is not to scream in front of them or kill their dog.

We have had a very not day. And I am not in a good mood.

*Since I am a person who has to achieve something everyday in order to survive the suicidal tendencies, I can say that the only saving moment of the day is the fact that we did go to Maureen's Discount Shop and bought three pairs of plimsolls. Maureen did not look happy at the sight of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger running about the shop and jumping up like spring lambs, but some things I just have to ignore.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

National glory

Now I am in a blog ring I am gloating. 'See!' I say to Dig. 'Not only Michelle has read my blog! Look Dig! Look!' I keep pointing to the different names and say 'Someone wrote something nice! Look! Here's a Jax and a Gill and a Grit, OK then, I won't count that one, but hey! There's a Haricot! Look! Dig! Here's an Alison! Have I shown you what Clare said? Can I read it to you again? Out loud?'

Dig is getting fed up with this smart behaviour and says he thinks I might be doing this blog stuff all wrong. He says if I am seeking national acclaim and glory I should do it all different. He says that I write far too much about bits of household drivel, like how many hours Dig spends without his trousers on, and that no-one wants to read that. He says people in the world go to blogs for big things like news and what is happening in politics and stuff like that. So I have decided, in pursuit of national fame and glory, to write some news for a newsfeed. I'm not sure how to go about this, so bear with me Jules.

8.55 am. I tell everyone to shut up because I am listening to the news headlines after the pips of Radio 4. I say this might be important for my newsfeed. Squirrel asks what a newsfeed is and Shark starts talking rubbish about feeding cornflakes to the radio. Tiger joins in with some more nonsense about pouring milk all over the talkers. 'Actually Tiger' I say, 'those are not talkers. They are John Humphrys and Edward Stourton and they are the presenters.' I think I am good at this news stuff. Then Squirrel ruins it of course by asking if she can pour Weetabix and milk over John Humphrys and Edward Stourton and in amongst the hysterical laughter about something which is not funny at all the pips and the headlines have gone and it's Melvyn Bragg. Now I've got a problem with Melvyn Bragg, so I have to turn the radio off in a temper tantrum and try and send everyone to their rooms to tidy up.

10.00 am. I get Squirrel to read the word cat. I know it's not exciting nationally, but it's big news in this house.

11.00 am. Squirrel can no longer read the word cat. She has gone up to her room to sulk and be difficult. There you go, the changing political and social world that goes on around us. I can barely keep track of it.

11.30 am. Everyone has to leave the house to get to a gym lesson. These gym lessons are costing me a fortune. If I didn't keep telling everyone off about rolling about the floor and jumping up and down on the sofa, I could probably call those activities gym lessons instead. Thinking about it, I now have an inter-generational conflict story. That would be good for a human interest angle in the Sundays Life and Living supplements.

3.00 pm. I discover there is nothing to eat in the house except dried pasta and a lot of dried beans that need soaking in hot water for an hour before being boiled to death in a saucepan because the pressure cooker has broken. This probably reflects a crisis of technology, which sounds like a promising angle for any journalist. Just in case there is any journalist picking up my newsfeed.

5.00 pm. We eat a lot of pasta with boiled tinned tomatoes from the Tesco value range. There you see, poverty today and economic drivers in action.

7.00 pm. Shark and Tiger are arguing about who gets in the bath first. Politics.

9.00 pm. I am writing up bits of my news. I rather like this idea of newsfeeding. I am starting to feel like Reuters now, tippety tap on my keyboard, writing about all the breaking news and important issues of the day. News, news, news. I might have to get a special hat for this job.

10 pm. Tiger is having a long complain because she was last in the bath and she says it's not fair and she says she is always last. Tiger says she is leaving this family in the morning but before that she is never going to sleep ever ever again.

10.03 pm. Tiger is asleep. A rich subject I feel for issues of child welfare or the post-modern, post-bedtime educational setting.

11.00 pm. The newsfeeder is feeling a bit tired now and is closing down and going to bed with a glass of red wine. This might be an innovation in newsfeeding. Sometimes it just has to stop. That would be an interesting story for the journalist who is probably, even at this very moment, hanging on Grit's newsline.

Night night.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Theme park

Here's a secret bit of Grit history. I grew up in Nottingham, and went to school opposite the Forest rec. Come the first Thursday of every October, there would be Goose Fair, one of the largest travelling fairs in Europe, right opposite the school. All the fourth and fifth formers were allowed at lunchtime to go to the fair across the road. We could be thrown about on twirling parachute rides, strapped into seats to be spun round and round while going up and down, and sucked up in the air to be plunged down one second later, leaving your stomach somewhere in the clouds. To my schooled peers, this was heaven. To me, it was agony. I used to try and wangle a day being ill so I could avoid being sick after coming off the cakewalk.

It's no better now. Last year I took Squirrel, Shark and Tiger to a kiddies theme park and the staff forced me on all the rides because the kids were under 120cm. This was misery. By the time I'd spun round in the giant tea cups with Squirrel dancing up and down thinking the whole thing is hilarious, it was about to be mother's demonstration of projectile vomit all over again.

You can probably guess we don't do theme parks. They're crowded, expensive, noisy, plastic, and I vomit. But today is different. Because today we have free tickets to a new theme park as part of its soft launch, so off we go. And in anticipation of this event, I've got Dig with me, who will have to go on all the rides instead of me. I just feel a bit sick in the car on the way.

But hey! First surprise! There are not many rides! Some strange plastic vegetables that sing, a few plastic pigs in a field, some Tesco carrots buried in woodchip and a few dinosaurs probably nicked from Norfolk.

And if this isn't enough to make me squeal with delight, what comes next? Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are measured at over 120cm! If it jiggles, spins, or bumps, I don't have to do it!

It gets better. Jol and Elibee and Mart are there and I get to do some quality chit-chat while Squirrel, Shark and Tiger are being jiggled, spun, and bumped about on the few rides that there are. They do rock-climbing, canoeing, being jiggled up and down in the jiggly up and down thing, they eat ice cream, play in the ball park, wear a puzzled expression in front of the plastic singing vegetables and go ooh and aah over some gravel.

So I'm going to count the day a success. No vomit, no jiggling, no being dragged on and off the teacups by a jumpy about Squirrel and no obligation to keep smiling or nod painfully when Squirrel, Shark and Tiger ask me if I am having fun.

Just sitting down, all day long, complaining, mostly about theme parks like this one. Bliss.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

May day fantasy

Being the day it is, when virgins take themselves off to sweet meadows and roll about the dew before dancing themselves senseless with ribbons and flowers around the Maypole, Grit might just have to indulge in some May day fantasies.

Grit's May day fantasies might involve Stefan, the gym teacher where Squirrel, Shark and Tiger take their gym lessons, who is sculptured from material left over from the making of the gods and has a backside... well, enough of that. Or it might be Grit au naturel following her female urges to dance into woods and forests forever, collecting May flowers and weaving scented garlands and singing Tum-tee-hum-hum-hum, before getting cold and fed up, wondering where the toilets are and is there a 5-star hotel nearby for a decent coffee and a slab of chocolate cake.

OK, I might backtrack from the eco-bit, but I wouldn't mind being crowned on a flower-covered throne with May blossom garlands and be The Queen. Then we could pretend the lawn was the village green and Shark and Squirrel and Tiger could dance about. This would be highly gratifying because I could have been chosen from all of the pretty girls of the village to reign over the May Day festivities.

I have to admit this is not likely. I am not exactly the prettiest grape in the bunch and Shark has said she is not dancing ever ever ever, so before I took the throne I'd have to squash the rebellion from the Maids of Honour, then it would turn into a power struggle and would end up looking like a reenactment from the Battle of Bosworth.

Perhaps I could try engaging in some home ed fantasy. Like teaching the children about driving cattle through fire. On second thoughts this might be dangerous because Squirrel sometimes takes things literally and might set fire to her plastic cow set or put them in the oven without telling me like she did with her pretty pink beads.

If all this fails I could try enlisting Dig for some energetic Morris dancing. We could try sticking some deer antlers on him and banging a drum loudly to get him in the mood for a turn around the lawn. I bet he would be a kill-joy though and say he's not playing. So we would have to wait until he falls asleep in his office chair in front of his computer before putting the antlers on. Then I'd get Tiger to start banging the drum.

I don't know. I'm not sure I can translate Grit's fantasies into reality. But I can console myself. I'm sure all these May day rituals are about death or survival. And because suicide's out of the question since it might hurt, the remaining thing I can say with certainty going on every day round here, is survival. But only just.