Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Good visitors

Am and Jol have been round to play. Jol is amazing, and has the endurance of Sherpa Tenzing as she scales up to Tiger's attic bedroom only to be bombarded with incomprehensible and lengthy explanations about unicorns and pegasuses for an hour. Well done Jol!

If that wasn't enough to mark them out as exceptional visitors, Am does her party piece on leaving, which is to drop her shorts about her ankles, clamp her elbows to her side, shuffle forward, wave her hands and shout 'I'm a penguin!'

It makes the Grit family feel almost normal.

Monday, 30 July 2007

The lamb

So here's a pointless exchange.

La famille Grit has just arrived home from an outing in the car. Everyone gets out, except Squirrel, who is standing up inside the car, and Grit, who is unpacking bags from the car to carry into the house.

S = Squirrel and G = Grit

S: I want an apple.
G: We're outside the house! Go in the house and have an apple there. I can't stand in the street peeling apples when we can do it in the house. Anyway, I haven't got any apples. Ermintrude has the apples. And she's in the house.
S: Then I'm not moving.
G: Well don't move then. Now I'm going in the house. Are you staying in the car?

[Squirrel sticks her nose in the air and starts on her way to the car door with kicking legs, like she's not in control of them but that's the direction they're taking her in.]

S: No.
G: Well I'm shutting the door. Are you on that side (pointing to car interior) or this side? (pointing to pavement)
S: Hrrhmmhmmha

[Squirrel, harumphing all the time while making exaggerated leg movements, gets out the car, and dramatically flounces to the front door. Once in the lobby, she blocks the entrance, stamps her feet, crosses her arms and sticks her nose in the air again.

G: I'm not staying here. I'm carrying things. Go and see if Ermintrude has the apples.
S: It's not fair!
G: What's not fair?
S: Shark! Shark is working against me with the lamb.
G: Working against you with the lamb? What does that mean?
S: She has the lamb. And it's my lamb. And I didn't say she could borrow it!
G: I can't put up with this malarky. This bag is heavy!

[Grit pushes past Squirrel, drops the bag in the hall, and turns round.]

G: What are you talking about?
S: I didn't say she could borrow the lamb and use it against me did I? I said she could borrow it for two minutes! Is it two minutes now?!
G: Well ask for it back. Now come inside.
S: No.

Oh dear. I can't go on. The argument about the apples, lamb, and then a paper chain, lasted for 43 minutes more and mostly took place in doorways.

I warned you it was pointless.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Not anywhere

Grit is in a right mood and is not posting. Not ever again. I am not doing anything. I may not even breathe, just to spite everybody. First however I will slam a few doors and scream.

I am going to keep a record of the pointless arguments that take place between Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, and then I am going to post them on the blog. And then when Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are all aged 17 and have their boyfriends round to tea, which will of course be essential so that I can see they are proper marriage material and not any old gutter contents, then I am going to read out all the pointless arguments for maximum pain.

And I bet Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will not be chastened but will shout 'So it was her fault! She did take the octopus! She started it!'

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Not the hairdressers

Squirrel's cut her own hair.

Dig's been in charge, while I haul Shark off to the library to borrow Teach Yourself German in preparation for Sasha's visit next week. Dig being in charge of children means go back in the office and ignore them, even when they cut their own hair, then not notice anything has changed, even when there is evidence of hair cutting having taken place, or when there is a bald patch at the top of Squirrel's head where her hair used to be.

Well if you can't beat them, join them.

I've hacked off a good few inches today all the way round. Probably except for the back bit, which I can't see. No-one's noticed. And if they have, no-one's said.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Je ne sais pas

This is Ermintrude's last full week with us. She's at the safari park with Shark, Tiger and Squirrel, getting angry and shouting in French while sitting in a plastic pedalo shaped like a swan. I'd like to say they're in the middle of the lake, but actually they aren't because they cannot leave the lake side. Shark and Tiger are sitting in the front of the swan, fighting with fists and claws because they both want to pedal and steer, at the same time, and in different directions.*

Meanwhile, it's time for Grit, who is at home and in miserable arse mood, to start weighing up the pros and cons of this au pair business.

On the plus side:

1. The washing up gets done.

2. The kid's rooms are tidied.

3. I set books and earn money.

4. We are still going out, visiting theme parks and pretending to home ed.

5. Ermintrude has taught us how to say 'Push off you donkey' in French.

6. Dig clearly feels he has achieved something in terms of household management.

On the minus side:

1. Because I've no excuse to hang about the kitchen, clearing up, I spend all my free time in the office. Not down the gym, note. Not hitting the charity shops looking for a new pair of jeans. Not reading interesting stuff. Not doing anything in the way of self-image, self-improvement, self-anything. And worse of all, not reading stories to the kids. Just more work. In the office. Which is a depressing place to be at all times and especially when it is not raining.

2. I have to manage someone else in the house and tell them how the washing machine works and whether it is time to dishwash yet. This is hard work. I don't like it.

3. I won't get paid for ages. This is the crap thing about working without a regular salary. You do the work, put in the invoice, it doesn't get paid. It doesn't get paid some more. Then it doesn't get paid on the reminder. Hey! What are we all supposed to eat? Grass? (I know I offer it to the kids, but I am joking.)

4. I feel obliged to find interesting places to go so that I can give the au pair a fun time of it. What I should do is shove a vacuum cleaner at her and go. Actually, Ermintrude has not shown much interest in the vacuum cleaner since her attempt on that direction on 4 July.

5. We will say 'Push off you donkey' to some little kid who is being irritating at the safari park, and then discover, when he starts wailing and fetching mamma, that he's French.

6. Dig seems to have taken having an au pair in the house to mean there is no excuse to come out of his office now at all. Not ever. Except for meal times, when he is summoned by Shark. Keep this up, Dig, and I will post a photograph of the dining table.

So is this au pair malarky worth it? I don't know. Ermintrude is leaving next week and Sasha is arriving. Then, apparently, there's Amanda arriving for autumn.

On balance, I'm not looking forward to it.

* Experience leads to the conclusion: never put Shark and Tiger together in the front of the swan.

Thursday, 26 July 2007


It's the Back in Time event from the parks dept. I arrive, Shark, Squirrel, Tiger and Ermintrude in tow, and start explaining to Ra, one of the parks organisers, the history of the passes again, and the contents of the phone call that morning, to be interrupted in seconds by Ra's dawning face and sudden exclamation, 'Oh! It's you!'

Putting a face to the name clearly explains it all. Ra says that they've gone back to search the records that very morning and discovered that I have paid, once not twice, and the passes will be hand delivered because she knows where we live.

Well, this is all good news. And now that's sorted, it's off to the real history of the day. I'm determined on some proper education now and not just mucking about in a field with the parks department.

We start off with the Stone Age and the flint knapper who's demonstrating neolithic tool-making techniques. Now, thanks to Grimes Graves and the EH bloke who works there and who imparts a great deal of insider knowledge to us everytime we go, I feel we know a thing or two about the ring or clunk on flint, so I start to show off our knowledge. I am not assisted by Squirrel who looks bored, like she's heard it all before, and who is tugging at my raincoat to get me to take her to the craft tent while she whines 'Mummy, mummy, can we go now?'

Before we get there, we get sidetracked. A time traveller is coming out of the tardis. This is very impressive. There is a tardis play tent, and inside is a six foot adult, struggling to get out. When he does get out, he's a wizard. I'm not sure which historical time wizards come from, so in the pursuit of all things educational, and preferably chronological, I tell Tiger that I think he's descended from a Celtic druid and get her to repeat the story about Queen Boudicca and the destruction of Colchester.

Then I spy a laminated A4 printout pinned to a fence post. Now I have had a worksheet on Explorers through history shoved into my hands by Ra, so I insist everyone goes off to read the printout. I say it'll give us an answer to one of the questions on the worksheet, so stop dragging your feet and moaning about the craft tent because, like it or not, we are going to find all the answers to all the questions on the worksheet, and this laminated printout will give us a start.

I dutifully read a lot of words about how Marco Polo was an explorer into China and then I look at the worksheet. There is no question on Marco Polo. There is no reference to Marco Polo at all. There is a question on Shackleton and one on Columbus. I briefly wonder if Marco Polo fell off the bottom of the page. Get out of this one, Grit. Fortunately, Shark's had enough and runs off, which means I can blame her for us not finishing the worksheet on Explorers through history. Or not even starting, actually.

Shark says she wants to go on the walk. This is the history event called go down to the ditch with Mothman and have a look at some flowers and bugs. I'm not sure which history event this is, so I shout after Shark that this must be the 20th century, so pay attention.

While Shark and Tiger are off down the field with Ermintrude I embark on helping Squirrel find selloptape so that she can make a space ship to blast us off into future history. Because I am determined to get something educational out of this, even though the coloured craft paper is flying about me lifted by the wind, and the kids are screaming all around because the first plip-plop of rain is soaking their spacecrafts, I am shouting about how space is a vacuum and how we cannot breathe in it, so you'd better think about an oxygen cylinder.

Then the rain lashes down. And lashes. Everyone aims for the craft tent, which looks dangerously like it might be lifted out the ground and become a real space ship anytime now.

But we don't give up, do we? And it's not just me, either. Here comes the tardis, pelted with rain and dragged through the downpour by two crouching parks staff draped in soaked-through waterproofs. Underneath the tardis stumbles a pair of feet, struggling with the wet grass and the fact that they are in a manhandled tardis in the driving rain and the owner of the feet cannot see where he is going.

There's a moment of tension, or relief, as the tardis is put down. Everyone waits expectantly to see who'll jump out. Just as some little kid goes up to peek inside, out leaps Edward Teach, Blackbeard, threatening to cut off everyone's ears. The little kid freezes in terror and Grit shouts 'Seventeeth century! Who wants to do a project on the seventeenth century?'

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

A happy visit

I'm going to remember this day for a while yet. Because we have visitors. And not any old visitors, like the ones who dress in suits and carry an anaconda's smile and a Bible, nor like those types of visitors who are checking up on my oven or the gas meters, and neither like those who are knocking on the door because they are just doing their round and checking the registered owner of the vehicle parked outside without a tax disc. Oh no. None of those types of visitors. These are real, proper, nice visitors that I can ask proper nice things of, like 'do you take tea?' and 'do you have milk?' and think, thank goodness you do not take sugar because I had to hide it from Squirrel, and right now I can't remember where I've put it.

Anyway, I'm going to remember our nice visitors for a while yet. And not for the fact that within seconds of our nice visitors arrival, I've managed to blow the lights. Nor is it because I scream in panic and threaten them that the only way I know how to break the circuit between them and the electric wiring is to hit them with a rubber cosh or the wooden handle of a broom, so don't touch that, and don't touch that either because I got electrocuted on Christmas Eve and it isn't nice.

No, I won't remember any of that. Our visitors are exceptionally lovely, and behave very properly at all times. At tea-time, even though it is a bit of reheated pasta Grit has scraped out from the bottom of a pan along with a reduced price quiche bought two hours earlier in a panic from Tesco, our visitors behave very nicely and eat everything up, properly. I am almost minded to point them out as examples to the junior Grits, who are spilling drinks all over the table and squealing about dinosaurs jumping off cliffs.

And what behaviour our lovely visitors show! Junior visitor does not once lie down on the floor and squeal or hang on to the banisters. And the grown up visitor goes to the top of Tiger's tip-top fan club because all the stuff about falling off a cliff and being taken along tunnels by dinosaurs is listened to very politely and nicely. And, if that wasn't enough to elevate our visitors to tip-top slot, then there's the violin and ballet torture which our nice visitors smile through, all the way, and then they even clap.

No, I'm probably not going to remember any of the above. I'm going to remember that when they go home, Tiger has been made happy. Michelle has listened to her violin and her story and to her tittle-tattle of this and that, and Chloe played with her and laughed. And after our visitors go, for a few brief hours, I have a still-smiling Tiger, happy right until bedtime.

Please visit us again soon Michelle and Chloe!

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

To be continued

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger go off to track fairies in a wood, courtesy of the parks department. I don't go, actually. I've already drunk the contents of the thermos flask and read the newspaper down at the local kiddy theme park. So I drop them off, with Ermintrude, to do the fairy business without Grit. I go home and compose an email. To the parks department.

The email is prompted by the fact that when we get to the wood, an enormous queue is standing beside a sign that reads 'Today is a pre-booked event! If you have not booked you WILL be turned away!' But at this point, Grit is smug. I have paid a whopping amount of money to get Squirrel, Shark and Tiger onto the priority lists which mean we should be able to swank in there, shout 'we have passes!' and get straight in to the excellent activities organised by our wonderful parks department. (Hey, one of them might be reading.)

Only our names are not on the list. There is no Squirrel, no Shark, no Tiger. 'You have to book!' says the astonished parks lady.

Well, I think, not only did we turn up for this event 30 days early, I did speak on the telephone, twice, to someone who said they were part of the parks department. So that's what I say. I say I have booked, on the telephone, and I have bought passes. 'Passes?' says lady parks. 'Are there real passes? I venture. 'Only we haven't received anything'. I do not say that actually I posted an empty envelope to you, and got a nice letter back, asking me if I'd like to send a cheque.

At this point, with the queue beginning to lengthen, and the dawning realisation that this one might take longer to unpick than fifteen seconds, nice lady parks waves us through, and Bal, the local storyteller, shuffles his feet, and looks like he might need to muster another group, quickly.

And I've sent the email to the parks department, outlining my confusions, and booking us into everything all summer long. It's bounced.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Bee sting

It is 9 am, and Tiger gets stung by a bee while she is slamming about the schoolroom, throwing things at Shark.

Actually, I do not know she is stung by a bee, because I am in the leaking shower, downstairs. The first I hear is a lot of screaming, which I ignore. Screaming is usual and one learns to not hear it. Then Shark is hammering at the shower door shouting 'Mummy!' Since this is also usual, I ignore that too, and shout back, 'I am in the shower! Go and fetch Daddy!'

In a few minutes I can hear Dig upstairs shouting as well. So it must be a real emergency. I leap out of the shower and run upstairs wrapped in a towel to see Tiger sitting on a chair with her leg in the air, hollering her lungs out. On her big toe is a bee sting.

Mummy Grit flies into action by pulling out the bee-sting with a pair of tweezers, sticking a packet of frozen peas on the offended foot, then dragging on a tee-shirt and tracksuit bottoms before jumping in the car to the chemist's shop down the road.

I wish I looked like Bo Derek in a wet T-shirt competition, rather than Grit, five minutes out the shower, wearing yesterday's T-shirt with paint and a tomato stain down the front, wet greying hair, flip flops, even though it is pouring with rain, and saggy bottoms that even the RSPCA shop would dump. I blend in perfectly with the inhabitants of Smalltown and wonder if we are all standing here buying anti-bee sting mixture while our daughters scream the house down and prop up their big toes with bags of frozen peas.

Well, it was not fatal, and Tiger is showing no distressing signs of allergy to bee stings or to anti-bee sting mixture from the shop. By 11 am she is back to normal, and barefooted, running about the house throwing a cuddly toy bullfinch at Shark's head.

Sunday, 22 July 2007


Tiger has some self-esteem problems. This is the conclusion I come to when Tiger's gone bonkers and I've calmed down.

I say, 'Tiger, what would you like to drink?' Tiger answers, 'Huh! I can't have anything to drink! Shark says she can have the apple juice and then I can't have apple juice. I can't have apple juice because you think I'm rubbish. I'm rubbish at everything and Shark is not. You love Shark and you don't love me.'

This response might go on for 15 minutes, until I crack and send Tiger out of the kitchen, which in Tiger's world sort of proves her point, that no-one loves her, and in fact, no-one loves her so deeply they send her out the room while they pull out their own hair in clumps and kick the furniture. When all mummy Grit really wanted to know is whether Tiger wanted apple juice, or whether she'd prefer the pineapple and coconut.

Grit, being a good mummy who has finished smashing up the kitchen, then goes off and finds a website which might explain why children are revolting. And what can be done about it. And then I start to find out just what a miserable, bad, rubbish mummy I am. Because this is the advice:

1) 'Watch what you say.' Oh dear. I suppose saying 'I will sell you for medical experiments if you don't shut up moaning' was the wrong thing, then.

2) 'Be a positive role model.' The website says, 'If you are excessively harsh on yourself, pessimistic...' Bugger.

But then I start to get argumentative, because this website continues...

3) 'Identify and redirect your child's inaccurate beliefs.' Inaccurate beliefs? What does that mean? Redirect them? I am confused. If Tiger says no-one loves her because she is rubbish, I say, that is rubbish, we love you lots. So much in fact that we probably say it 5000 times a day.

4) 'Be spontaneous and affectionate with your child.' Well, it was two years before I could remove my lips which were suckered to their heads, so I'd say this affectionate malarky is going on all day here, except when Tiger is horrible, and slamming doors and stuff. I mean, I cannot start slobbering kisses on a Tiger who is smashing up the house just because a sister wanted apple juice, now can I?

And then it all starts making me cross again.

5) 'Give positive, accurate feedback.' Give me a break! I'm a home ed parent! Some complete and utter bit of scribble rubbish gets pushed into my hands. I should shout, 'What?! Some tree had to die for this crap?' But of course I do not. I say, serenely, 'I like this line here, it makes a lovely contrast to all the other lines on your page.'


6) 'Create a safe, nurturing home environment.' What? What do they think we do here? Put drawing pins in the bath? Anyway, when that happened, it was not me. It was Shark.


7) 'Make your home a safe haven for your family.' Well, since Tiger, Shark and Squirrel do not get routinely beaten up in the playground, pursued by happyslappers, tortured by Mrs Grimley head of Year 2, or shouted at by a PE teacher until they are in tears, I'm not sure this one applies.

So then the sarcasm.

8) 'Help your child become involved in constructive experiences.' Oh. So I suppose taking Tiger off to violin, tennis, drama, gym, trampoline, french and art lessons might show we are lacking in this department. As does being generally a home ed kid who rolls out of bed when she wants and does more or less what she fancies, from cooking to rock-climbing, and sometimes both, if she can fit them in on the same day.

Angry? Argumentative? Sarcastic? This cannot be anything to do with whose daughter she is. This must be environmental. And therefore, since Dig lives here, and is part of the environment, I conclude it's his fault. Either that, or that triplet thing.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Gooseberry jam

I've made some gooseberry jam.

I think to myself that I am quite good at making jam, but shhh, don't tell anybody, because I wouldn't want anyone to think I wear a flowery pinny and sing tum-te-hum about the kitchen everyday, because I don't. I go in there every morning, trip over the floorboard, complain about the mess, clear up yesterday's plates, spill Cheerios all over the floor and tell Tiger that eating chocolate for breakfast is fine because the French do it. And no, you can't have any.

Anyway, I like making jams. And chutneys, too. I think I am now so good at it that I can set the pan going and then wander off for half an hour, and forget about it all together, until I smell a funny smell and wonder what it is.

Let's revise that statement then. I've made some burned gooseberry caramel. But at least when I discovered that fact, it wasn't 11 o'clock at night, like last year's apple chutney.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Be safe

Today it's another home ed outing. This time to a safety centre to learn safety rules and important things like how to use a pelican crossing without screaming or pushing your sister in the gutter because she pressed the button first. And other things too, like calling the emergency services on a 999 call from a phone box but not to shout 'there's a train on the line!' before running off. Then there's what to do if you've knocked someone unconscious by accident with a puffin, and how to get out of a burning house, which mummy Grit may have inadvertantly started like last time with a wooden spoon stuck under a saucepan of boiling peas.

The scenario of getting out the burning house is particularly good, says Vi, one of parents, because the safety guides lead the kids inside, then run off when smoke starts coming under the door. Apparently that gives the kids a chance to decide what to do for themselves without asking a grown up all the time.

And this is what it's all about. The kids are led about every hazard by safety guides who leave them to act on their own before giving them a talk about what to do in a real emergency. The parents are given a good talking to about how we shouldn't go down there and run about after our little darlings, telling them to grab a wet tea towel or the recovery position is like this, not like that, and give that phone here you dim wassock because the fire crew won't ever come if you mutter. Once the over-protective and pushy parents are out the way the kids set off, and we can watch them from the coffee area on CCTV screens, which is especially gratifying because now I feel like a proper surveillance officer. Vi even provides a mug of tea.

First up I watch Shark in the phone box, who fiddles with her plaits and leaves all the difficult bits, like pressing buttons and talking, to a little kid half her size. This is not impressive when dealing with an emergency, saying, 'You do it' to the nearest five year old, and I resolve to tell her so later.

Next up is Tiger and Squirrel.

It doesn't start well. Squirrel and Tiger get into the phone box, look at each other in a bit of a panic because the shop dummy is drowning in the lake, then run out. So, mummy Grit, you can take it that if you are to be rescued by Tiger and Squirrel you will surely drown, be burned to death or lie in a comatosed heap choking on your own vomit until Dig gets home.

In a couple of minutes they're back. Clearly the safety guide has told them to get a move on with it because the poor sod is nearly dead. Now here Tiger really starts to look panic-striken. And Squirrel shows a particular ineptitude when it comes to making the phone call. Squirrel presses 999, then lifts the handset. Disaster. This is the wrong way round. Both stand listening to the dial tone for a good five minutes. I'm a gonner. And so's the dummy in the lake.

Next to appear is Tiger again. With the safety guide. Tiger can't take any more apparently, the stress is too great, and she wants to get out. She's flunked, and we're all doomed if Tiger's in charge. I sit with her on my knee trying to say nice things and not making jokes about burning houses until it all ends and all the kids come out, talking about how to get out of your bedroom when it's only steam and where's the ambulance anyway. Squirrel seems to have enjoyed herself, although she's been directly responsible for at least one death. And Shark enjoyed the burning house the most.

Well at least we have two trained emergency staff in the house, although, Shark and Squirrel, I'm sure your parents can teach you a thing or two about safety.

Like the time mummy Grit called 999 because Tiger, aged 2 and a half, fell asleep down the back of the sofa, and all the cushions tipped on tip of her, and mummy Grit couldn't see her! My goodness! After an hour of running about, she's just on the phone to the police when a sleepy looking Tiger appears from the front room! What a hoot that was.

Or the time that daddy Dig left the gas on all day long after cooking boiled eggs for breakfast. We all went off to the English Heritage Festival of History for the day, came back at 8pm and saw the hob brightly burning away. Thank goodness he'd remembered to take the pan off!

We won't list the car accidents, or mummy Grit locking herself out of the house, twice, or the day when the fire men came round and mummy Grit shattered a burning hot light bulb over her head by swinging a ladder at it.

Neither will we mention the day mummy Grit put special cleaning soap all over the wooden stairs to the cellar and then screamed at the top of her voice. Oh dear. What she should have shouted was, 'Eek! I have seen a spider!' That might have helped daddy Dig make a decision before putting his foot on that top step.

Well, I'm just very glad we have some safety wise young ladies in the house now who might spot these hazards before they turn into disasters. Let's just hope it's not Tiger who discovers the body or Squirrel who has to make the phone call. And I'm hiding the matches from Shark just in case she wants to replicate the experience at home.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

A satisfactory day

I'm working today, and Ermintrude is in charge. She does pretty well, considering.

First she takes Squirrel off to the £1 shop to buy a pair of butterfly flip-flops. This is quite useful because Tiger has taken a pair of scissors to two pairs of flip flops now; Squirrel has tried to mend them with sticky tape but it didn't work, so she probably needed a new pair that will fall apart without assistance from Tiger.

Next, Ermintrude takes Shark down to Tesco to buy double cream and a vanilla pod to make some extraordinary pudding with lots of chocolate in it. That sits in the fridge in the office while mummy Grit gets told off for licking out the inside of the bowls that have contained delicious Green and Black's melted chocolate and Shark's home-made vanilla cream.

If this wasn't triumph enough, Ermintrude then takes Tiger over the road to thrash about with a tennis racquet for 20 minutes.

This is indeed a triumph. I have to have a drink before I embark on this. Tiger keeps up a litany about how she is rubbish at everything and how no-one loves her because she is horrible and how she wishes she did not have sisters and how everyone hates her anyway.

After a couple of hours of this tedious recital of human failure and misery from the perspective of a 7-year old, my mind has usually numbed out and I'm inclined to start agreeing. When I come round I start scanning the internet for child psychologists. But Ermintrude has the advantage here because she only understands one in every 20 words that Tiger speaks, so it all washes over her, leaving her unaffected. She probably spends her mental energies much more productively, like wondering what Francois is up to.

So thanks to Tiger being taken off, Squirrel being made happy and Shark giving Gordon Ramsay another run for his money, Grit ends the day in quite a satisfactory humour.

And Shark's chocolate and vanilla pudding was extra delicious. Even better, Squirrel filled up on pasta, so I had to polish hers off too.

Well done, Ermintrude!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007


Tra la la! We're all out for a home ed trip to Knebworth, where we have a jolly super time with Am and Jol and lots of folks we know. This is a tip-top day and I've not a complaint against it.

Except that I am made to sit on the little train and pretend I am aged five again, which I try and do quite gamely. I would sit with Shark, but she is in a strop about a stick, and so spends her time in another carriage trying not to enjoy herself at all.

And I do feel a bit grumpy about having to go round the house. I do not do tours of rich houses very well. I do not know what they are for, neither the house nor the country gentry who live in them. I have a few tendenceies towards the common folk, thanks to my background and the family history down the mines, and am therefore not well disposed to the ruling classes.

Also, although I do not bear grudges, we got thrown out of a National Trust propery six and a half years ago when Tiger got too close to a mirror. The fact that she was some meters from it was not significant, apparently. She was still too close. Well that did it. I haven't been round anywhere since.

Now I obviously don't want this to become a grump about the National Trust, which has been very good to us, apart from confiscating our cards and a tennis ball, that is. And picking a fight with us down the temple gardens. Now I come to think of it, all those incidents were at Stowe Gardens. Maybe it's the staff.

Perhaps that's what it is at the Knebworth house tour. It's the staff. A lovely lady shows us round and not once did she tell us off.

The lovely lady never once complained that we weren't listening, that we weren't looking, or that we were too close, too crowded, too far apart or too talkative. She did not complain that we were leaning, holding, pointing, or looking up when we should be looking down. It's surprising, isn't it, that Grit and all the little junior Grits should be told off for doing these things, but we have. Especially mummy Grit, leaning against signs that say Do Not Lean Here. And last week, sitting under the sign that says No Picnics with a flask of green tea and a cheese sandwich.

Anyway, lovely lady at Knebworth told us off not once. Not a single instance, in fact.

And I ended up enjoying myself. Even though, like Shark, I didn't want to. And I think that points to a moral. If everyone is just nice to each other, no-one has to grump and rant and complain about anything. In fact Grit's day wouldn't need to exist.

Well, only a bit.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Our punishment

Well we've managed to get rid of British Gas. We cut them off and got a new supplier. And in retaliation, they send us a bill for £1,335.28.

This, apparently, is the final gas bill for gas used from 26 May to 26 June. One month! My goodness, we must have had the heating turned up. And all the gas rings going. 24 hours a day.

But, British Gas, it still wouldn't be enough, would it? Dash! What could it be, I wonder? The cooker's electric, so that can't be it. And the gas lights were dismantled some decades ago, so that can't be it either. Could it be that it's spite and incompetence? Well, I never!

British Gas says they know it's true, because they came round and read the meter in July.

I don't think so, Matey, because the gas meters are in the yard and the only way to them is through the gate.

Now the back gate came off and hit me on the head on Saturday 2nd June. I blogged it, see? And I'm pretty sure I've not used it since. In fact I've been carrying the rubbish through the house routinely on a Thursday night since it happened and, what with the rain, the flooded yard and the slugs, I'm not likely to get confused and think it's been mended now, am I?

So here we start again, the letter writing, the threat of the police, the imminent court action. Now Grit had better stop, because otherwise it'll turn into a rant, and we don't want that.

That I'm saving for British Gas.

Monday, 16 July 2007

I don't care

Big Kate arrives from California to spend the day. Big Kate isn't really American, she's British, from Kent, and has married Lars, an American who knows what to do with things like guitars and cellos and trombones. Actually Big Kate isn't Big either. She's slender and knows what to do with a violin and a piano. Together, Big Kate and Lars probably make a pretty good team.

Anyhow, Lars doesn't come. He hides in Kent. I don't blame him. I get the feeling he's child-averse. He might come out in a rash if he sees Shark, Squirrel or Tiger. He would certainly have to lie down on the floor and holler in pain if he hears that dreadful screeching noise Tiger makes with the horsehair as she drags it screaming across the A string. Honestly, how many thousands are we paying out for Tiger to learn the violin? If her teacher wasn't quite so wonderful and Tiger quite so insistent, we'd chuck it up altogether and I'd buy a new dress every month on the money I'd save.

Well although Tiger and Big Kate should have something in common here, what with the Mozart and all, I cannot say Tiger is on her best behaviour this day. In fact she brings me down something rotten.

First off, it's a trauma in the garden because Shark and Squirrel get to go first on the swingbat. Then it's a trauma because Tiger won't move and stands in the way of the ball and gets thumped on the head. Then it's a trauma because she cannot hit the ball, even when it's her turn. This prompts the 'I don't care!' to start, which is thrown down everywhere we go, follows us about and fills the air so we can't talk.

After a couple of hours I've really been brought low by it. And I'm her mother. Goodness knows how Lars would cope with this. Probably try to knock himself unconscious in an attempt to escape the misery of it all. Considering that we see Big Kate once every two years, I tell Tiger, I could expect better behaviour than to chant 'I don't care! I don't care! I don't care!' at her for 40 minutes non-stop across the kitchen table while she's trying to play a game of tic-tac-toe with you.

Big Kate of course is generous and big hearted and plays games with everyone and is just about the most wonderful patient person I've ever seen with kids, even revolting ones who chant 'I don't care!' for 40 minutes at a stretch.

Big Kate says that after the first 15 minutes 'I don't care! I don't care!' starts to sound quite musical, and she's almost tempted to compose for it. It could be the 'I don't care' song. The Arctic Monkeys could record it, or she could take it home and Lars could set it as a Jazz piece and then we'd all be foot-tapping away to it and swaying about the kitchen. As it is, I'm downright glum and wish Big Kate could see us on a better day, when everyone's laughing and having fun.

So Big Kate, whom I care about very much, please come back to see us in 2009, even though Tiger on an 'I don't care!' day is probably about the worst advert for the delights of children that I can imagine right now. And better leave Lars in Kent.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

How to choose a video

Squirrel, Shark and Tiger are in the front room, deciding what video to watch. I've sent them in there to chose a video while I get peace enough to start chopping onions and opening a tin of tomatoes. The decision making over what video to watch will occupy about 15 minutes, by which time the water will be ready for the pasta.

But today there's a lot of noise. Squealing, shrieking, shouts of 'No! No! No!' Banging floorboards. More squealing. Thumping and whooping with joy.

So I go into the front room. There are knickers strewn about the room, on sofas, carpets, bookcase. Squirrel is in the middle, spinning round like a top, as fast as she can go. Shark and Tiger are on the sofa, excitedly shouting and pointing 'There!' 'No!' 'Now! Stop! No! No! NO!'

Squirrel shudders to a halt, swaying over a pair of blue knickers which she swoops to grasp and brandish high above her head, her arm outstretched and her face in a Whoop! of delight. 'Lion King!' she shouts, like she's the winner of the last golden ticket. Tiger and Shark launch themselves about the sofa in excitement. Squirrel hurls the blue knickers over the back of the TV and starts spinning again.

If this is the new means to select a video, let's hope we don't use it in the public library in town.

And the last knickers were for Roald Dahl's Matilda.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

An excellent day

Oo, Hubby and Son come round to make the day. Oo is amazing, and if you ever meet her, you can tell her I said so. Hubby is important in making things, and it's not just a mess, like Dig. He makes wonderful buildings happen, and probably some not-so-wonderful ones too, but hey-ho, we've tried to work with builders in the cellar conversion, and it's not easy. Son is gifted, and goes to a posh school for specially gifted children. One day he will be a famous musician, composing music for film and theatre and creative events I can't dream of, and you'll be humming his songs down the high street. And don't forget, you read it here first.

Anyway, Oo, Hubby and Son bring round lots of food to eat, because they are like that. Generous, kind, considerate. Not like Grit who emerges at someone's house thinking 'Oh bum. I can't go in empty handed like last time. And the time before that. And all last year as well. ' Then I can usually find some Tesco value apple juice that's only a day or two past its sell by date and which has been hanging out in the car in case of emergency. If I'm lucky, I'll find a half-pack of ginger nuts too. And if I'm really organised or want to impress, I'll have the shopping in the back. Only I know that a gift of six tins of Tesco value red kidney beans does look a bit odd, and possibly not generous at all.

So Oo, Hubby, and Son come round to make the day. And amongst the bags of lovely food that Oo, Hubby, and Son brings, there are tortilla chips.

Tortilla chips. The words are rolling around my mind and tongue. I am salivating at the words. Tor-tee-ah chips. Did you hear that delicious pop on the words 'chips'? The word starts so delicately doesn't it, with a little chi sound, and builds up to a soft and tender moment of silence then, before the 'p', when you're almost voiceless in delight. And if anything can be more delightful, there it is, the little pop of the 'p' and the sigh of the 's'.

Now, you have probably guessed. I love tor-tee-ah chips. If the wall paper was made of them I'd eat it. Which is why I am not allowed to buy tortilla chips. Not ever. Just take one, and that's the end. Because if I do, I have to eat them all. Not just one packet, but every packet. And there'd be no stopping me, either. I would soon have to be rushed to hospital with Tortilla chip OD.

And Oo, Hubby and Son bring themselves, lots of lovely food, and tortilla chips. Three bags of them. Three lovely bags. Oo, Hubby and Son, you are welcome here anytime.

And not just for the tortilla chips.


Friday, 13 July 2007

Let's go to the dentist

Well, in the scale of things, the dentist went off alright. We were in there for 45 minutes, mostly trying to persuade Shark to get in the chair that goes whrrrrrrr. She wouldn't, anyway.

After 15 minutes, Dr Fang had got a bit fed up. He'd tried, 'Look! Teddy can sit in my chair!' And he'd demonstrated his chair going up and down. I'd got in it and pretended I was going off to the moon. Dr Fang gamely went 'Whoosh! Whhhrrrrr! Blast off!'

Well Shark wasn't having any of it, and after 15 minutes agreed to have her teeth checked, standing up. Not opening her mouth was a bit of a drawback.

By that time I was getting a bit fed up too.

Now I'm making no apologies to the TCS parents out there. I tell Shark that the bottom line is that we are not here to play with the chair or spend two hours examining teddy, who won't open his mouth either. All that is a cheap deception disguised to get you to agree to a check up. Deal with it. Now open up. I can get that mouth to open pretty quick if I stick my fingers up your nose. Come on, smartish. Or else.

Even though Shark was a bit of a trial, Squirrel was desperate to get in the chair. Until it did go Whrrrrrr with her actually in it, then she was desperate to get out again. So back up with the chair she goes, but at least she's perched on the edge of it when Dr Fang asks her if she brushes her teeth twice a day, and not plastered against the door, like Shark. Then Squirrel composes herself, and replies, diplomatically, 'Sometimes I forget'. Dr Fang bursts out laughing and Squirrel bursts into tears. She won't stop until I hold her hand and Dr Fang shouts 'Blast off!'

Then it's Tiger's turn. Tiger's in one of her 'I don't care!' attitudes, so jumps straight in the chair and gives him a stare as she opens her mouth, baring her teeth. I'm not sure Dr Fang wants to stick his fingers in there at that point, so after a quick glance with a mirror on a stick says everything seems to be going OK, and my goodness, we must be in a hurry after being there so long so better get going.

Now it's really my turn, and not just mucking about pretending to be an astronaut. I get the kids out, off with Ermintrude to walk back up the hill while I have some teeth cleaning done. Strangely, this lasts about 30 seconds. Usually it feels like it lasts several hours.

When it's done, I jump up and head for the door, managing to bring down a large plastic box Dr Fang's got positioned on the wall, holding notes and dental records. In my defence I say that I cannot see properly thanks to the plastic goggles the dental nurse now makes me wear. In a sad attempt at humour to diffuse the awkwardness of having sent his dental records box crashing to the floor I ask Dr Fang if the goggles are to safeguard me in case he goes beserk with his drill. Dr Fang doesn't look amused.

On reflection though, today has changed my view of things dental. I thought it was us who dreaded the dentists. I reckon after today's visit, the dentist dreads us.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Miserable Grit

I am very depressed.

Shark and Tiger are constantly fighting with fists, claws, hair pulling and abuse. This is not good. Pulling over onto the hard shoulder of the motorway is not good either. I threaten to put them both out of the car, M1 or no M1. Only part of my brain is telling me this is a stupid idea. The other part of my brain is telling me this is a good idea. I can site them behind the barrier, half-way up the hill. I think there they would be safe. And they can fight it out and provide some bemusement for the passing motorists.

My ipod is gone forever.

Dig is always away. When he is here, he is always working or stressed. Our recent romantic weekend in Paris to celebrate the tenth wedding anniversary that he wasn't here for anyway transmuted into two hours down the local Taj Mahal Balti House.

I am getting very old and worn out and not only is it hair time again, my shoulder aches, so I am clearly in the early stages of arthritis.

I am a whining, moaning, miserable Grit. And knowing this doesn't make it any better.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Princess Anne

Dig rings up on Skype. He says he's turned up at Brazil to do his bit on commas and he's told that Princess Anne will be in the audience, so wear a tie. I bet she and hubby are having a not-holiday as well.

Dig says he's not wearing a tie and Princess Anne has made everything tricky. For a start, the security staff won't let him get to the stage. This is very tricky. The stage is where she will be shortly introduced. And without access to the stage Dig can't plug in his laptop and set everything up for his talk which follows.

I think at this point Dig is very wise. He says he does some 'jumping up and down'. Clearly he has taken a few lessons from Shark about how to get your way.

Dig says he gets on the stage, sets everything up and, ready for him to press the buttons, leaves his laptop there. Then Princess Anne arrives on stage, is properly feted before taking her seat on the royal fold-up chair in the audience for the Dig show on commas. Unfortunately what Princess Anne does while on stage is very tricky indeed. Because she has managed to lean on Dig's computer keyboard and set Dig's presentation off. So when Dig gets to it, he finds it half-way through, and has to start fumbling about setting the whole thing up again.

Dig has form with royalty, UK and elsewhere. So he knows how to behave. I notice Grit is kept well away from it all. I will just add that HRH was off to see some gee-gees and do some business with a children's charity. Guess which one she went to first.

No wonder they keep Grit away.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

How the other half lives

Ermintrude has been telling me about the last time she was an au pair in England. She says it was last year. And it was a big house in Buckinghamshire. 'It was...', says Ermintrude, staring around her at our kitchen which has had tin cans hanging down from the ceiling since January pretending to be Persian lanterns, 'It was a very big, big house. Weez lots of space to move'.

Well, Ermintrude. This is a bit of a come down, quite frankly. Our kitchen is now so cluttered with child art and furniture brought back from the tip that we have imposed a one-way system as the only way to maintain the free-flow of bodies. And we do not have a huge lounge with three sofas and picture windows over the estate. We have the front room and a hedge. We have no swimming pool. We have a drain in the yard that is blocked. And we do not have a grand entrance with columns and a great door. We have two outer doors which do not shut thanks to Mr Bumface who screwed the handles on the wrong way round, due either to his spite or ignorance, I cannot tell which.

In fact as Ermintrude describes her previous accommodation the only thing I can find in common with the Lady Cee - who is at this moment lounging on her big cream leather sofa somewhere in Buckinghamshire - is that right now both of us might be found at home. But whereas Lady Cee will be decoratively lounging on a selection of sofas I can be found hiding in the office wearing yesterday's old clothes waiting until the leaking shower is free.

Well, at least Ermintrude is not sorrowful about her change of status, which swings in her favour. She says she has got used to holding down the oven door with her foot, the drip in the toilet and the way the doorhandles come off in your hand. She says she has learned to step over the wobbly floorboard and knows how to deal with the fact there is no fridge.

And when today the sink blocked and I produced an industrial strength sink plunger brought for me as a Christmas present by Squirrel, she laughs. Probably for a good fifteen minutes, actually, which I thought was a bit over the top for a sink plunger, but I can forgive her.

I think laughter is a good thing. It may help preserve her sanity when I tell her the history of the electric socket, the light in the bathroom, the upstairs front window, the kitchen fan, and the hole in the ceiling.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Seven women in a house

Dig has pushed off to Heathrow on the train to jump on his flight to Brazil. He says that's not a holiday. I notice he's packed his lumberjack shirts though, which doesn't look like business to me.

Dig leaves behind his three daughters Tiger, Shark and Squirrel, his sulky-Grit-wife, his sister who we call Aunty Dee, Ermintrude the au pair come to teach us French, and The Hat, who's coming to visit for tea. That makes seven females, and no grumpy male stomping about the house grumbling because he cannot find the computer cable he always takes and now look, why isn't it here, on the pile of old Malaysian newspapers scattered over the hall floor where he left it two weeks ago?

When The Hat arrives, the partying soon starts. Squirrel gets on her Cloud costume, Shark dresses up like a blue glitterball, and Tiger goes for a medieval princess look. I wear stained charity shop jeans that are torn thanks to a collision with the oven door, so I am wearing sad poverty look.

And we have party food. In honour of The Hat's arrival, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have co-opted Aunty Dee and Ermintrude into helping them cook this afternoon. This means making French apple tart, cake, biscuit and blancmange. I've tried turning the blancmange experience into a home education 'History of Blancmange' lesson thanks to Wikipedia and the blow-up globe, but no-one is much interested because Tiger has made pink sugar biscuits and Ermintrude has brought little sugar flowers to decorate them.

We have presents too, courtesy of The Hat. She has brought some little Russian dolls which she brought back from her last visit to Iran, where she has family. Each little doll wears a painted burqa so they are mostly black, except for a pair of painted gloved hands and a pair of tiny painted eyes that peer through a narrow slit.

These dolls puzzle me hugely. Are they intended for little girls? Or are they to make sure that little boys, who might try and curiously lift the burqas, may discover only another one underneath? Or perhaps they are just for tourists. Or perhaps men might glimpse something not allowed in the wooden dolly world, so they must be covered up. Anyway, you can't see anything that might be thought of as immodest or provocative, unless the painted eyes count.

And so the party goes on. The evening is lots of fun with a lot of jolly talk and laughter. We all eat tarte aux pommes, cake, biscuits and blancmange, and listen to Bollywood music from India thanks to the Internet radio. Tiger has made too many biscuits so The Hat promises to take some home and we put the rest in a tin.

Then it's 10pm so it must be time to get Shark and Tiger and Squirrel up to bed. Aunty Dee waves story books about and The Hat, who probably has another couple of parties to get to yet, is gamely clambering into Shark's top bunk, shouting 'I've been in one of these before!' However, she seems to forget that this was probably in 1962 and then needs to help to get down again.

After a very noisy hour, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are safely in bed, still chattering; Aunty Dee sits down with a fairy story; Ermintrude makes off to call Francois; The Hat kisses everyone and slips off to her next engagement, and mummy Grit slumps into a bedroom chair with the remainder of a bottle of Italian wine. And the little Iranian ladies are safely put away in their presentation box for the night. Tomorrow, I resolve, we will talk about the rights and responsibilities of women. Probably when we've shared out Tiger's biscuits for breakfast.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Suspicious package

I'm looking for a bedtime story to read, and on the bookshelf I discover a small green container, sealed and strapped together with sticky tape. I have an instant 'ugh!' reaction to it, because it smells strongly like wee.

This is the second suspicious package I've discovered in the last week. The first discovery was of two sealed plastic containers sitting side by side at the end of the bath. One contained something that looked like diluted wee; the second contained bath water. Suspiciously, I sniffed, went 'yeurgh', and poured the strange contents down the plughole. But tonight, I am driven to articulate my suspicions.

'Has anyone been weeing into green containers?' I say innocently, while Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are busy watching UK TV History. 'I have!' shouts Squirrel brightly, without a hint that this might be an unusual thing to do.

'Why is that?' I ask, sweetly. Inside I am suddenly panicked. My daughter has gone mad. She wees into containers, seals them, then plants them about the house. How many more am I to find? And where will they be hidden? Squirrel must be traumatised after appearing on stage. She must need psychotherapy to deal with Grit and Dig for parents. But I try to make my voice sound normal, like I might be inquiring about what book she wants to be read for a bedtime story.

'It's for a science experiment' says Squirrel.
'That's interesting' I say. 'What's the experiment?'
'I don't know' says Squirrel, a little impatiently, like I might be mad for asking. 'When we do a science experiment and we need wee, I will have some.'
'Well', I say, 'Do you think that when we need wee for a science experiment we could just wee into the containers then? Wee doesn't keep very well in containers. And the sellotape's not wee-proof. Your green container's leaked on the bookshelf.'
'I didn't put it there!' says Squirrel, indignant. 'I put it on the table.'

Shark and Tiger don't say a word, staring at the underwater scenes on the TV. Clearly, having wee dripping from the bookshelf is quite within the range of normality round here.

'Was that wee in the bathroom the other day?' I go on.
'Yes!' exclaims Squirrel.
Then Tiger looks up for the first time. 'I put that in the bath' she shouts in dismay. 'I thought it was perfume'.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

The final performance

Day 2 of the ballet torture and Squirrel is on stage for the matinee and evening performances.

The day starts with The Hat. I have a ticket for The Hat but if she doesn't contact me or turn up, then it'll be a spare seat. And I don't want one of those. Neither does Dig, who's taken to hiding in his office, just in case one becomes available. Throughout the morning I make complex email and phone arrangements so that The Hat's ticket is available to her, right through the entire matinee performance, now scheduled to run from 2pm to 5pm.

Next, I do the fine timetabling. Squirrel's on about 3.10pm. I'm precision-timing this so I don't have to wait around a second longer than necessary. I've even included a two minute delay at the roundabout roadworks and considered my accelerator speed in a battered Citroen Berlingo, which shows just how fine the timings are.

Then Squirrel announces she wants to stay for the finale. I refused to let her last night, so she missed her slot. And I have no intention of staying tonight, either. The show will just have to go on without her. However, it's difficult to deny her a final waft about on the stage with Aunty Dee, Shark, Tiger, and, hopefully, The Hat in the audience, so I relent and adjust my timetables accordingly.

The next torture is getting Aunty Dee to the theatre for 2pm, show start. She's going to follow me with Tiger and Shark in her car, and I will lead the way. It's a five minute drive, seven with the roadworks, and I leave 25 minutes for it.

Aunty Dee drives slowly. Very slowly. So slowly in fact that I am crawling down Moon Lane at 20 miles an hour and she still cannot keep up with me. She leaves a gap that's so huge other drivers cannot bear it either. They overtake or pull out from their parking spaces so that by the time I reach the bottom of the lane she's five cars behind and I can see the tail back stretching into the distance behind her. Then, for fear of losing her, I'm constantly pulling into bus lanes and laybys with all four hazard lights going full pelt. After ten minutes I reckon I may as well leave the hazards on until we inch our way into the theatre car park because they are probably a true reflection of our driving status at 25 miles per hour on the 60 mph dual carriageway.

By the time we get there, I'm sure I'm suffering chest pains. But The Hat turns up, which helps, just as the show's starting. Everyone scampers off to sit through the misery of the thing and I can go home and recover for an hour before I dash Squirrel down for her bit.

And so the day passes. By the evening performance I can see the end in sight and start to relax. I've brought some drawings that Tiger, Shark and Squirrel have done and I go round with blu-tack in the art area of the community centre where there's an exhibition, and I stick them up. I reckon they're as good as what's up there and I feel the need for a bit of subversion after what I've suffered today.

And then, I can't help this, really, and I can't apologise for it either. When me and the other Cloud mothers assemble to walk the Clouds back through the yard area that they have to cross to get to their makeshift dressing room, there's a sigh of relief all round. The Clouds start running around in delight. Then one of the Clouds misjudges her skip and crashes headlong into a dustbin. I'm not the only one who laughs. Her mother's guffawing, and I think I'm not the only one then, for whom surburban kiddy ballet is misery, and a relief when it's over.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Be prepared

It is the first day of Squirrel's ballet performances, and the show starts at 7pm. We have been here since 6pm, thanks to Miss Tuzy telling me yesterday that Clouds are needed for a 'technical run through' at 6.15.

The Clouds are the first act in the second half. Now, I'm just putting together the information I'm gleaning. I've found a running order, and there are 20 dance sequences in the first half. If each sequence lasts 5 minutes then we're looking at 100 minutes. Given a late start and slow changeovers on the first night, say nearly 2 hours. Which makes the 15 minute interval start around 9pm. I reckon Squirrel won't be on stage until 9pm at the best, and 9.15 more probably.

Which means a three hour wait from when we arrived, and I am in a strop. All the Clouds and all the Cloud mothers have been ushered by Miss Tuzy and her clipboard into an airless room doubling up as a dressing room and told to wait. By 6.30 there has been not a word about a call to the stage for a 'technical run through'. By 6.45 I can safely tell Squirrel it's not happening. By 7pm I am not in the best of moods. It's just as well Miss Tuzy and her clipboard seem to have disappeared.

But for this, I am prepared.

Experience has taught me a few things and I have a stack of books about pirates and fairies and a bottle of white wine in a picnic hamper. The bottle of wine I have decanted into an anonymous plastic bottle where I can take discreet swigs of it and pretend it is home made lemonade. The books are all adventures stories and I start reading them to Squirrel in a loud and theatrical voice, sometimes accompanied by actions.

Now I'm not saying the wine took over at this point. Sometime in the last 20 years I did teach English and Drama. And after managing screaming triplets trashing a shopping centre I have no inhibitions and no dignity either. But I am starting off this evening in a bit of a strop about having to wait for three hours while Squirrel is blown across the stage, and it has to come out somewhere.

The actions become exaggerated and the pirate voice becomes booming. When I get to the bit where Pirate Joe is showing off his steely claw, which he got when the Mad Cap'n Crake slammed the lid of the treasure chest down on his hand and sliced it right through, I am thoroughly enjoying myself. In fact I am unashamedly showing off with a complete stage performance. I am surrounded by Clouds and a few Fairies who have wandered in from another room and whose mothers are not far sighted enough to stack the picnic hamper.

When the story's over I get a bit of applause and a Cloud attaches herself to my leg and asks for another tale about Pirate Joe, and this time, she says, can I show her the claw. I say I'll think about where I might have put it.

When Miss Tuzy appears in the doorway at 9pm to collect the Clouds and to suggest that for tomorrow evening's performance Clouds need not turn up before 8.15, she does not get the tongue-lashing she deserves. But I do give Miss Tuzy a brief unsmiling stare as Squirrel shouts out excitedly 'Mummy keeps a cut-off hand in her picnic hamper!' Miss Tuzy looks like she doesn't quite know what to say, and I think, Well done, Squirrel.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Thursday's list

What a difficult day. I hardly know where to begin. Listing things is always a good idea in these troubled times, so here it is.

1. Gym and trampoline lessons for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. We are late. Tiger is being irritating just because I have lost her gym costume again. I find it in the laundry basket with apple juice down the front. I get it out and flap it about a bit to get rid of the smell. I promise I will wash it for next week. Tiger reminds me that I said that last week too.

2. I am sure Ermintrude has been getting her own back on me after I suggested she might pay £45 in petrol fees for a lift into town last week. She keeps saying, 'How do I say zeez in English zat I want to go away now. Zeez afternoon'.

3. I have to bring everyone home after their gym and trampoline lessons and feel the need to force-feed three Tesco value pizzas to the entire family. Ermintrude looks especially glum.

4. I rush Squirrel down to the theatre for ballet Rehearsal 3. I have a timetable where it says Clouds are needed at 4.15 and 4.30. When we get there, no-one seems to know where Squirrel should change or wait. I worry that I have missed everything because by the time we find a corner to change it is 4.25. Then of course, I stop worrying. Twig is running 2 hours behind schedule, so I install Squirrel with the rest of the Clouds at the back of the theatre, and drive home to fetch Squirrel's tea. I bring it back to the theatre along with a foot-dragging Ermintrude.

5. I then go back home again and get Shark and Tiger in the car for drama. Fortunately they love drama and cannot get in the car fast enough. Getting into the car too fast means you fall down the front step and cry.

6. I run back to the theatre to find Cloud kicking the back of the seat in front of her and irritating the hell out of a Mountain fairy. I get from Ermintrude, who is sat in a different row reading Cosmopolitan, that she doesn't think Clouds are needed now because Twig changed the running order after I left and swapped Clouds over with Buttercups. So I drag the Cloud costume off, apologise to the Mountain fairy, and take Squirrel over to join in the last 40 minutes of drama. I take Ermintrude home where she disappears into her room.

7. I have half an hour to idle around. Dig tells me he just said goodbye to a man who came round to look at all the bathrooms, which leak. I bet Dig did not show Bathroom Man the bathroom in the office. The office bathroom is so disgusting that in 2002 I refused to go in there ever again. Apparently, Bathroom Man is putting in a quote to rip out two bathrooms and install new ones. I reckon that once he's seen the inside of our house and the bathroom painted like a jungle, he strangely forgets to quote for any work at the Pile, ever, even when he's telephoned to be reminded.

8. When I pick everyone up at 7pm I drive home and we eat pasta. I forget the kiddie RSPB meeting which also starts at 7pm. Unfortunately I make the mistake of shouting out this oversight at 8.30 pm, which is when it ends. Shark is inconsolable because she has 20 photographs of a nest box and 15 photographs of a blurred blue tit outside the office. She has been carefully saving this lot up for this evening so she can show Pied Wagtail. I say that she will have to show him next time.

9. It is 11.30pm and Aunty Dee is arriving from Newcastle. She wants to see Squirrel on the stage dressed as a Cloud. I tell her the performance is running at four hours so far and Squirrel's part is five minutes. I say Aunty Dee is lucky: the tickets are apparently going like hot cakes. In fact I was unable to get a ticket for myself at all.

10. Midnight. I search in vain for my iPod again. I have to conclude it really isn't me that has misplaced it. It has been stolen. And for that, I may have to try and kill myself.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The cleaners

Ermintrude thinks we should get a cleaner. She's come to this conclusion after weilding the replacement vacuum cleaner and needing two bags for the enormous balls of fluff that she has found lurking under the bookcase.

The fluff has been there so long it is probably evolving into a primitive life form and has created a functioning brain and lungs for itself. I think this, but I don't say it, because Ermintrude's English might not stand up at this level and she just might be packing her bags ready to leave in the wake of some misinterpretation of what I'm trying to convey about what can be found in the front room.

Well, Ermintrude, I say. We have tried cleaners. Five of them, to be accurate. I'll tell you about them.

The first cleaner didn't exist, but I'll count them, because in my experience, cleaners who don't exist take up far more time than cleaners who do. The first cleaner didn't come via the Maid for You service. In a fit of optimism and in ignorance of reality, Dig paid over a huge amount of money on a monthly basis to be told time and time again over the phone that it was quite difficult getting cleaning staff right now but they could send flowers for his wife's birthday if he could let them have the date.

Honestly, Ermintrude, we cancelled them after two months because they seemed only interested in running an Interflora service and nothing to do with actual things we needed like cleaners and plumbers.

Cleaner number two came from a cleaning agency out of the local newspaper. She was very nice and did come regularly at first. She did make quite a record for herself though. She managed to break the Dyson vacuum cleaner, coffee grinder, pedal bin and bath. The bath was sensational. She swung the broken Dyson straight at the bath panel; it cracked smartly in two, then a large dagger shaped chunk fell out, leaving a splintered, gaping hole so we could see the pipework. That's why we have a curtain at the side of the bath Ermintrude. You thought it was for decorative purposes, didn't you? There you go. Never think anything is simple in the Grit household.

Cleaner number three arrived when Cleaner number two left for Dorset. Cleaner number three smashed the frame of my favourite picture which was in the hall. I know it was just a print and just from Habitat, but I liked it. I didn't like the cleaner, actually. She was rather grumpy about the type of cleaning on offer here at the Pile; I was glad when she didn't show up and I could quietly suggest to the agency that another personality type might be better suited to being in an environment that does not use Airwick or Pledge.

Cleaner number four was downright odd and wouldn't come back after a couple of weeks. I think she was carrying around a couple of hundredweight of chips on her shoulders. I know that sounds odd, Ermintrude, but I'll explain about a chip on the shoulder later. Now doing a cleaning job is fine by me. I am eternally gratefully to anyone who does this job because I don't like it and am not very good at it. And I am sure I have never said anything demeaning or rude or unpleasant about the job of being a cleaner. But within minutes of being in the house, Cleaner number four shouted in a huff 'I have a degree in sports science, you know!' and proceded to prove it by running up and down the stairs 40 times. I felt I had to acknowledge her ability at stair-running by clapping, which seemed to make everything worse. I was quite glad she decided not to come back after week two.

Cleaner number five was the last, because I couldn't take any more. Cleaner number five was Holly, who was being beaten up by her husband. She'd left him once already and come back to him when he wooed her all over again and promised to reform. Then she didn't get ready to go out quick enough one Saturday night and got a black eye for her tardiness, which she turned up with one Monday morning. When she turned up with four children in tow, I really had to wonder what I'd got myself into by hiring a cleaner in the first place.

At this point I decided not to hire any more cleaners and decided to do the job myself. Quite when I thought I might clean the house, given the home educating of triplets, a job in the office and the daily routine of cooking, feeding, washing, I'm not quite sure.

Which is why the house is in the state it's in today, Ermintrude.

Now, I'll show you where the vacuum cleaner bags are.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Friday 13th looms large

Oh, joy. I have made a dental appointment for me and all the little Grits on Friday 13th. I discover this when the receptionist makes a joke about it. Until that point it had just been, innocently enough for me, 'the Friday after this one.'

Well, I can console myself as I lie there having Doctor Fang poke about in my mouth with a pointy stick. Dig will be somewhere in Brazil, sipping Caipirinha at a bar surrounded by Brazilian lovelies who want to improve their English. In fact, the organisation who want him out there to speak on commas were so desperate to get him that they offered him two business class seats on BA for him and his wife.

Well, needless to say, I'm not able to take up that offer. We couldn't find anyone who was willing to look after Shark, Tiger and Squirrel for the week. Strange.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Rehearsal 2

Back to the ballet class at 4pm for another hour of torture. This time the loathsome Miss Tuzy shoves a letter in my hand demanding a contribution of £26 for a cloud costume which, so says the letter, need not be returned because it is fitted exactly to Squirrel's size.

Fitted, my backside. They do not want it back because they jolly well know that by the end of performance three the cloud costume will be covered in make up and Squirrel dribble, along with splatters of apple juice and glued on bits of carrot cake because we've all had to hang about for so long waiting for rehearsals and performances that we've missed tea and, driven by starvation, had to eat junk food in the dressing room. By Saturday night's performance Miss Tuzy may have had to take out a restraining order on me to prevent me bringing along a plate of spaghetti and tomato sauce and thrusting it into Squirrel's hands in an act of open defiance.

There is so much wrong with all of this kiddy ballet malarky that I could go on and on about it, despite having my mouth full of foam at that. So I will from this point attempt to be restrained and only comment on Squirrel's ballet where necessary or driven there by madness.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Rehearsal 1

I need some lessons in patience right now. Because after one hour and ten minutes I'll smash the bloody room up.

I'm standing here, one hour and ten minutes past 9.30 on a Sunday morning, in a sweaty room with flourescent strip lights burning and no windows. This is the dance studio, and right now some 200 ballet school students aged from toddlers to teenagers are pushing their way through it, crying in it, or rolling about on the floor of it, dressed in lurid greens and pinks, sparkly whites, metallic golds and silvers or blue and puce.

I should have brought ear plugs. That's the lesson. After not believing anything I'm told, of course. Like Squirrel being needed for a rehearsal at 9.30 on a Sunday morning. The chaotic noise of all these kids in costume being shouted at not to roll all over the floor has flooded deep into my brain. And when the pressure from that noise is subdued, momentarily overwhelmed by the pig-shrill squealing from Miss Tuzy to get off the floor if you've got your wings on, in flows the twittletwit of the ballet mums as they wittle on about buns and wings and the difficulty of getting sew-on sparkles.

By one hour and forty minutes past 9.30 I'm banging my head on the wall behind me where I've slumped to the floor, telling Squirrel that I have the same information as she does about the cloud rehearsal, so shut up because I am going insane thanks to the fourteen teenage girls next to me dressed as pieces of sky debating the dance styles of Robbie Williams.

That information, I point out to Squirrel again, is pinned on the door to the airless, sweaty room. There's a list of names - mountain fairies, sky, fish, crocodiles, village girls, trees and the rest - all with hours and minutes listed next to them. Clearly, the hours and minutes don't work. If they did, we'd be home right now and I'd be at the brandy. Clouds are listed at 9.30 after crocodiles. Crocodiles are still here, waiting to go upstairs to rehearse, but there's a problem with the feet, apparently, and some crocodiles haven't turned up. I cannot imagine why their parents haven't got them here promptly at 8.30 on a Sunday morning.

So this is another lesson. Never ever leave the house without books, crayons, craft paper and scissors, plus flasks of tea and fully stocked picnic hamper. Especially if you have been given guarantees that Clouds will be over in 30 minutes because they can't possibly fall behind schedule so early in the morning.

We have a week of this ahead. And if this goes on, the devil will get in me, and then there'll be trouble. I know it, because there was trouble two years ago. I cornered Miss Tuzy then and made her defend why she'd helped create a four-hour theatre performance with a five minute hole in it when the audience were told it wasn't the end, just sit down because we need to do some scene changes. The word incompetent is only the start of the utterance forming in my mind.