Monday, 18 June 2007

Monday is ballet day

Well, Ermintrude's first day couldn't have gone too badly, because she's still here this morning. I half expected her to slide away in the middle of the night. But I'm starting to discover why we've been chosen by Ermintrude. Strangely, it was not because we could test her 'I like children' skills by throwing Shark, Squirrel and Tiger at her. It is because she has a boyfriend in London with a posh flat, good looks and a French accent. If I were her, I'd keep an eye on things as well. So she plans to go back to London at weekends, she says, if that's alright by us.

I'm beginning to warm to Ermintrude. She tells me she is a biochemistry student and wants to improve her English so she can get a job, come to London and keep taps on Francois. I say it is tabs, Ermintrude, tabs. I say I think the Grit family is perfect for tip-top English speaking. Ignore Tiger when she shouts 'Nincompoop baby' and don't look in the fridge.

Anyway, while Ermintrude busies herself trying to work out what on earth Tiger is chanting, I get Squirrel ready for her ballet. Squirrel's ballet school has three upcoming performances at a local theatre. Now, I have to say that what's about to hit us here probably deserves a blog of its own. I could call it 'Torture, misery, despair. Suburban ballet schools.' It is such a rich seam of woe for Grit that I hardly know where to start.

So I shall start with Squirrel. Squirrel loves her ballet. She probably imagines herself as a proper ballerina, all pink and sugar plum fairy with gossamer wings that come out only for ballet and disappear while she's in the co-op, unless you look very hard and see a shower of silver sparkles all around her. This is OK by me. I know it is Squirrel's fantasy and this is fine. I have fantasies too. Mostly about Stephan actually, but I'm not aged 7. Anyway, the thing is, I like Squirrel to have her imaginings. But I do not feel obliged to want them for myself. This is what separates me from some of the other ballet mums.

There is a group of ballet mums at Squirrel's ballet who have daughters just like Squirrel, but those daughters have proper hair in buns. They have proper cleaned faces and their socks are washed. They have silver sparkles stitched into their cardigans and leotards that fit. These ballet mums go to great lengths to support the ballet fantasies and, I suspect, believe in them too.

And in this group, I stick out like a sore thumb. I have hair that looks like I've been electrocuted again, jeans that are torn in all directions, and stains down the front of Dig's old shirt, which I wear because I cannot find any clothes of my own. Unfortunately for Squirrel , she looks much the same. Her hair is combed once a fortnight because I cannot bear the screams. Her clothes are routinely unmended because I have more important things to do, and her leotard is three years old because I cannot face the misery of getting arguing triplets into John Lewis to buy a leotard for Squirrel at £12.99 when I am utterly broke anyway thanks to forking out a fortune for lessons in tennis, gym, trampoline, violin, and ballet.

It's unlikely, therefore, that in her ballet performance, Squirrel is going to be chosen as anything other than supporting cloud. Twig, the ballet teacher, has probably decided that since Squirrel is routinely late, does not wear her hair in a proper bun and has a leotard that does not fit, she is probably best placed in a role that will not be missed if she simply fails to show up at all.

Then comes my role in Squirrel's part as supporting cloud. Over the next three weeks I will be expected to cart her backwards and forwards at all hours for rehearsals. I will be expected to make sure she has her hair done up, be in the dressing rooms at the right time and then wait backstage. Each three hours will feel like torture. The ballet mums will be competing with each other, showing off fairy wings and hair nets, and I will be staring at the walls wondering if I am brain dead.

On the dress rehearsal, one of the ballet mums with salon managed hair and perfect make up will demand that I take my part as chaperone and get the kids from dressing room to stage at the right time. I will tell her no, because I am unreliable, and she will give me a cold hard stare, with her pen poised over my name on her tick list. Driven by the need to break the awkward silence I'll start to explain why I feel temperamentally unsuitable for the responsibility of leading kids dressed as clouds and rainbows. She'll look at me like I'm trying to be funny and then she'll snort and cross my name off her list with a great deal more pressure than required.

When that's over, Twig will make an excuse to talk to me so that she can remind me that I owe £16 for Squirrel's costume and please tell Miss Tuzy how many seats to reserve for me at £11 a head. 'Shall we put you down for 4 or 5?' she'll ask. If I drink heavily I will just be able to spit out a few words to Miss Tuzy whom I loathe. Not pulling any punches here, Grit thinks Miss Tuzy is an affected prissy airhead. Actually, if I did drink heavily, I might just tell her that.

All this is ahead of us. The very thought of having to engage in any of this is torture. But I bet you are thinking, why can't Ermintrude do all the running about with Squirrel and then Grit, you could just sit and watch the show. Exactly. If I do not do the running about with Squirrel, then I have to pay another £11 for myself to sit through three hours of amateur children's ballet in suburbia for Squirrel's fifteen seconds as supporting cloud. No. No matter how much I love Squirrel, I could not possibly do that. It is a step too far. That's a challenge I might throw down to Ermintrude, if she's still here. She can watch Squirrel, and I can hide in the ladies loo with a bottle of red wine.

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