Sunday, 17 June 2007


It's 10 o'clock in the morning and Dig says that the au pair is arriving on the train at 10.30, so get down to the station and pick her up, because he needs to get his trousers on. I say I'm not changing our day's plans, so there. It's a full day ahead for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, what with the free curry and the music festival, so the au pair will just have to join in.

Actually, I've been up since 8, trying to make us look presentable. I've put out the rubbish, swept the schoolroom floor, changed a spare bed, done the washing up, redistributed the laundry and ejected a penguin and two dolphins from the kitchen. I found a dinosaur and a zebra under my chopping table. Squirrel's taken to stuffing her cuddly toys under there in the mistaken idea that she has found a new squirrelling hole.

This is not a new squirrelling hole, I tell her. This is a deeply irritating place to stuff them, so stop it. For a start, they don't fit, and when you've squeezed them under there, they squeeze themselves out again and I trip over them. And when they do come out they are covered in fluff and bits of chopped onion and celery because they are under my chopping table. Now make them disappear and do not stuff them, like last time, behind the curtains/ under the computer table/ down the sofa/ behind the bookcase/ in the oven/ in the place where I keep the big bowls/ in the fridge. Believe me, I will find them.

Well, by the time I do pick up the au pair, all I know, apart from the fact that she speaks French, is her name. It is a very pretty name. Like the au pair. She is also very pretty. Now Grit is a mature lady and not at all threatened by having a very pretty au pair in the house with a very pretty name, all suddenly dropped out of the sky on her by a husband who is barely here and when he is here, spends his life wrapped round his computer. No, I am not at all threatened. I will give the new au pair the blog name Ermintrude to do her justice. I'm sure you'll agree Ermintrude is a very pretty name.

The first thing we are booked for today is a hippy festival in one of our local parks. This happens every year, and the Buddhists mastermind it. The Buddhists make sure everyone is nice to each other. There is a bit of chanting and speeches, and afterwards we get a plate of curry and a cup of tea. We are definitely going. I can teach the children about how to be nice to each other. And the curry and cup of tea are free.

This is Ermintrude's first introduction to us. After picking her up, we all clamber in the car to get off to the Buddhists. Shark and Tiger start fighting and slapping and howling as usual. Squirrel is worried about missing the curry and keeps asking 'have we missed the curry?' I tell her to be quiet about that because the free curry is not the only reason why we are going. We are going because the Buddhists are nice and we might get some ideas from that. I have to shout this bit so I can be heard above the screaming and crying.

By the time we get out the car, Shark and Tiger have been given a very big talking to about being nice to each other all day long. And, after the Toddington incident, I have confiscated all the picnic baskets. Squirrel leaps out the car and starts running up the hill towards the Buddhists shouting 'Hurry mummy! We'll miss the curry!' I have to follow with my eyebrows raised like I do not know what she could possibly be talking about.

I sit Ermintrude down on the picnic blanket. I think with all that blonde hair and fair skin she possibly looks a bit peaky, so point her in the direction of the sun. Because my nose always catches the sun first and goes bright red, I make sure I slather on a lot of nose sunscreen. I apologise, Ermintrude, for forgetting to offer you sunscreen for your nose.

When we've all done a bit of chanting and had the free curry, we can leg it over to the next festival happening in another part of town. This is brilliant. It's a proper music festival with proper bands and it's free. We're there in fifteen minutes flat and immediately get down to the stage where we see The Hat cavorting about, dancing with lots of people just like I would expect The Hat to do. I get Ermintrude to take Squirrel and Shark off to do some serious jumping about while Tiger refuses to join in because she has seen a dog somewhere, so I have to stay out of the fun and dance on my own. I look at Ermintrude and think she's a little bit thin. I make a mental note to put four large packs of Green and Black's in her room. I am sure they will be a lovely welcome present.

By the time we get back home it's 7 in the evening. The children are all exhausted and shouty. Squirrel has a big weep. Shark has a big shout. Tiger growls and slams a few doors. Dig makes himself scarce. I suggest to Ermintrude that she might try out her 'I like children' skills. With six weeks au pairing to go for the Grit family, Ermintrude looks like she's wondering what she's let herself in for. And as I keep my eye on everyone, I'm wondering as well, what we've all let ourselves in for.

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