Sunday, 30 September 2007


Grit is a Rubbish Grit. I am totally failing to do anything. In fact I am a total poopy-doo. I am a poopy-doo because I am not achieving anything, apart from being miserable, which I am now quite good at.

This is a list of failure. I have not...

1. Read the article that I ripped out from the Saturday Independent about three weeks ago. It is still on the chopping board, so everyday I look at it and think, just before I do any chopping, 'Hmm, must read that.' Then I move the folded up article onto the weighing scales and move it back again after the chopping's been chopped.

2. Rung the gardener who came round a month ago to cut the hedge. At that point I said I would telephone him to make a date for the pruning and uprooting the brambles in the gravelly patch at the bottom of the garden. This was a mistake. Of course I do not have his telephone number. Tiger had a good idea. She said look in Yellow Pages, which is where I originally got his number from. I think this is a brilliant idea. I just haven't got round to it yet.

3. Worked out how to use my new mobile phone which I got in March. I sometimes carry the instruction booklet around with me in the hope that I might read it. And understand it, of course.

4. Caught up with the blog. I am total rubbish at transformiong draft notes into a written piece. So from now on perhaps I won't bother. Today's entry would have then start as foloows:

We;l; must rinf the the gardener =bucause it's bveen a flipping long while since he came round to sort out the hedge. Now, where did i put his yteklephione number?

Of course bexcause I am a two fingered typer, on the second draft I also correct the spelling mistakes.

5. Looked at ebay. Well I'm sure I must be watching something, or not paid for something, or need to bid on something, or promised Shark she could choose a new denim dress that actually covers her girly bits instead of that short rag she wears that says on the label Age 9. Either Shark's very big, or it's shrunk very much. Surely girls aren't actually supposed to wear their dresses that short?

6. Done any work for weeks thanks to Elizabeth Hurley. She needs constantly looking after. And feeding. The children have taken to calling her Gannet. To her face, actually.

7. Cleaned out the car. I haven't done that since 2003. And then I regretted it and vowed never to do it again after the pair of knickers we so badly needed were at that moment sitting in a plastic bin liner in the hall 250 miles away. So perhaps I won't count the car thing as a failure, but as a success.

There. I feel better now. I've achieved something.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Oh dear

A small moment of Shark philosophy, appropriate on the day mummy Grit finds some tangled curls on the stairs from the bathroom:

The worse thing about cutting your own hair is that people keep asking, "Have you been cutting your own hair?"

Friday, 28 September 2007

Day trip

9.20 am: 'Let's all drive to Aylesbury and visit the Roald Dahl gallery next to Bucks museum', announces Mummy Grit.

This is Grit's great idea today. Because:

a) It is raining and we need to be indoors and not indoors here. This is thanks to all the arguing that's going on, mostly over pointless things like who saw the colour green first this morning.

We have these bickery-days, when Shark says something that Squirrel doesn't like. So Squirrel replies. And it's not polite. Shark answers back. Tiger wades in. Shark retaliates. Squirrel shouts. Shark screams. Tiger takes sides. Grit says something, probably 'Stop arguing'. Then Squirrel and Shark have a go at Grit and Grit replies. Shark answers back. And so it goes on. Yesterday morning, four hours of triplet bickering started over a banana before ending in a big scream and Tiger being removed from the kitchen.

b) I want to escape Elizabeth Hurley. Hurley is getting up Tiger's nose bigtime and even managing to trigger Tiger's rages, sometimes by being in the same room.

Hurley is getting up my nose too. Theoretically she offers us five hours worth of support and help each day, which could take the form of cleaning, help with the children, and so on. Yesterday we clocked house help at 55 minutes. Three hours twenty minutes were spent on the phone. If we all run off today I don't feel obliged to make awkward conversation in bad French when all I really want to say is 'Get off the phone and do the effing vacuuming, which incidentally is on the list of activities we needed you to do and which, further, you have never done'.

c) Roald Dahl has been King here for a while but he's slowly being knocked off his slot by magic unicorns and fairies (which in my opinion deserve bottom slot, but hey ho, I'm just the keeper of the library tickets, so what do I know). We need to go and praise RD before he's exiled from the kingdom by 'My Sweet Pretty Loveheart Magic Unicorn' or whatever rubbish can be found on the revolving bookcase in the children's section where all the fairy, pegasus and unicorn books seem to go. If I was a burglar I would steal that revolving bookcase and take it down the tip.

I'm not sure Dahl deserves King slot, incidentally. I think there's a touch of class-based misogynism in his work and some bits leave me feeling suspicious and uncomfortable. On the other hand, Simon Callow reading The Witches is one of my favourite audio experiences ever ever ever.

d) If we go to the Dahl place, I will feel we are doing proper home ed and not just messing about in the playground or at the pub. Then I will be a good Mummy Grit, feeling good about home education, and I will have Achieved Something.

6.20 pm: 'Thank goodness we've done that!' announces Mummy Grit, slapping down the sandwich box and empty juice cartons.

a) It rained. My goodness it rained. I couldn't find anywhere to park close by the museum. Worse, I got tangled up in the one-way streets and had to park in a shopping centre which cost me a fortune. We then had to walk back to the museum, accosting members of the Aylesbury public as we went, including the woman who worked at the tourist office. We all got wet. One lady thought I was not asking directions but taking a survey and refused to speak to me. Well, I know we're not at our brightest on a wet Friday but Look! I am surrounded by wet kids having a fight over who saw the green car first.

b) I am glad to have escaped Hurley. The house is exactly the same as we left it. Hurley says she is going out tonight so what time is dinner?

c) We listen to Dahl stories in the car on the way to get us all in the mood.

OK then, we listen to 15 minutes of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator because the other hour is taken up with arguing about what we should listen to.

d) Mummy Grit is happy because today she has achieved something.

Getting there and getting home again, mostly.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Purple boots

Tiger is desperate. She wants some pink boots. She needs pink boots. If she does not have pink boots, she will probably die. Right here. Now. On the spot.

Grit, being a good mummy, has a big sigh and looks on ebay where there is a very fine pair of purple boots in Cardiff that she puts on watch and then forgets about, so the 99p bargain goes to Sparklady.

Apparently, nearly owning a pair of purple boots from ebay isn't quite the same as wearing a pair of pink boots you can call your own. So with another big sigh it's off to John Lewis to be measured properly and then buy a pair of pink boots. That's Grit's idea, anyway.

While mummy Grit makes an exhibition of herself shouting at the ticket machine and thumping the buttons, Tiger wanders about looking for pink boots. She can't find any. I point out a lovely pair of red ones. Tiger thinks they are horrible and says she's not wearing them. I say they are beautiful and wonder if I could squeeze my size 6 foot into a size 3 if I don't wear socks and scrunch up my toes.

Not actually seeing any pink boots and being told there aren't many boots this week because new stock is coming in next week, doesn't deter us, and Tiger's foot gets measured. Tiger does not like this at all in case the slide-thing hurts her toes. Squashing out Tiger's toes with my fingers means that she measures at 12 and a half. Fitting lady says she is astonished at how wide Tiger's feet are, well over H.

'What are you looking for?' asks the cheery lady.
'Pink boots' I reply.
'We haven't got any' says the lady. 'We haven't got any in boots in H fitting. Boots only go to G. But you could try 1G in boots. Here's a pair of red ones.'

Grit says they look beautiful and let's hug them and try them on. Tiger mutters. Fitting lady ignores her and presents them. Tiger mutters some more which sounds like never ever ever. Fitting lady ignores her some more. Admittedly, listening to what Tiger is saying is pretty difficult right now, since she speaks in a whisper and has no front teeth.

Well Tiger's facial gestures seem to do the trick, so the lovely red boots which should be Grit's by rights get taken away and fitting lady lifts up a pair of girly purple boots and says, 'We have these in 1G'.

Tiger looks interested. Then Tiger looks determined.

There's a lot of grunting and shoving and fleeting looks of surprised pain while Tiger crams her foot into one. 'It feels comfortable' she gasps in a strangled whisper, her little toes clearly bulging out of the sides. Fitting lady is shaking her head and tut tutting.

Then I come over all mother. 'Well', I say, 'when you're aged 18 you can shove your feet into anything you like. But right now I'm paying and I'm not paying for them if they don't fit'. My voice sounds just like my mother's at Clarks in Sherwood in 1967.

'We don't have any more boots in 1G' sings fitting lady. 'We have shoes in black in 1H'.
'I don wan black shoes', Tiger whispers urgently in my ear.
'Are they for school?' says fitting lady cheerfully.

Tiger's face contorts in horror and she shrinks behind me. Not only has she had her feet clamped in a vice, she's now about to be airlifted to the nearest primary.

'I don wano be here!' whispers Tiger. I theatrically whisper back. 'Do you want to go home?'
'Do you want to look somewhere else?'
Tiger gives a sly look to the black shoes coming in her direction. 'Yes' she croaks.

And so it's Next. They have pink boots. Not the right size. Then to Clarks, where it's a thirty minute wait for Sandra to appear from out the back. More tut tutting. Then to BHS who have pink boots but mummy Grit refuses to buy them on the grounds that they are revolting. Then it's Pumpkin Patch: Tiger hates their pink boots and they don't fit anyway. Then it's Mothercare, Debenhams and H&M.

The last stop is M&S, right at the other end of town. And there Tiger spots a pair of purple boots. She tries them on, declares she likes them and that they're comfortable. By now I'd probably agree to anything. It's taken four hours. And my feet are killing me thanks to these ill-fitting shoes I found at the charity shop last week. But as we happily trot back to the car and I watch my lovely pointed toes tippety-tap, I think that my shoes may be killing me, but at least they look good. But I wish they were in red.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007


This is a disaster. Richard II has been deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke. That crafty Archbishop Arundel had quite a lot to do with it. Actually, by the look of things, so did most of England.

Well anyway, it's all over. After Richard's bumped off in some darkened castle and Henry of Bolingbroke takes the throne, then what happens? I won't know. History's at a standstill. I've reached the last page. And that's the disaster.

I've been reading this book on Richard II and the events of 1399 for nearly two months and it's been a faithful companion in parks, gardens, playgrounds, the space next to the freezer and morningtimes over coffee. I'd like to say bedtimes too, but I can't. I can read one sentence at night-time before falling asleep. I usually then wake up two hours later, still sitting upright clutching the book with the light on and dribbling a bit, probably. Dig will be downstairs working without being interrupted by small people demanding printouts of unicorns.

Although I knew the end had to come sometime, I yet have to steel myself to say farewell to 1399 and to Richard II and Henry of Bolingbroke, and take them all back to the library. The loss will wound me. I'm already considering nicking the book.

Anyway, if I do have to say goodbye, I've left my mark. Tiger was most insistent that she needed her gym practice at the local park, so there is a bit of a grass stain on page 105. Richard was just lying his back teeth out to Archbishop Arundel about being banished from the realm, so I had to take them both with me to sit on the park bench next to Tiger swinging about on the monkey bars. I had to find out whether the bish would see through Richie's dastardly tales.

On page 134 Henry of Bolingbroke was preparing to take his leave from England, having been banished by Richard for ten years, and forced to go off and live in the misery that is Paris. Unfortunately I left there the remains of one of Shark's home-cooked oat biscuits which crumbled over his sad leave-taking at Dover. Tiny ground-down crumbs are now stuck in the gutter and I can't get them out without the aid of a vacuum cleaner.

On page 149 Richard II leaves for Ireland. Foolish king. He might have guessed that the minute his back was turned, Henry would be back in England to stake his claim. I would too. So I'm leaving a bookmark in there. It is Squirrel's drawing of a hazelnut. She has been into hazlenuts in a big way recently since she wangled from me the knowledge of her blog name. Unfortunately she is also amusing herself by hiding them all over the house.

On page 173 there is a tomato-sauce thumbprint. I can't apologise. The pasta was ready and the sauce was not, so there was a bit of hurried tin opening going on after Henry returned to England, swept through the shires victorious, captured Richard without a struggle, and led him captive to London. Well it got quite exciting, so the pasta did have to wait quite a bit.

And I didn't engineer this, but there is a squashed fly on page 204. Richard II is disappeared. Henry of Bolingbroke is made King Henry IV and suffering head lice and rumours. The fly was from a hurried snap of the book when it started to rain at that playground in Bedford where there is a wooden fort.

Goodness, how the rain fell. I had to finish reading my wonderful book on Richard II and the events of 1399 to the very last page while sitting in the little playhouse. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger were in there as well, complaining that the fort is leaking and suggesting I might be a peasant and go and be a roof.

Of course I cannot be a roof I say to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger as I finish the last page on 208. I have much more important things to do. Like sit here and wonder what's going to happen in 1400.

Bennett, M. (1999) Richard II and the Revolution of 1399. Gloucester: Sutton Publishing Ltd.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


I have to come into the office to scream. I have walked to Tesco to buy two litres of vinegar for the ongoing chutney making and when I get back I see, twinkling on the path, peeping out from under the geranium, our front door keys. They're actually the front door keys we gave to Elizabeth Hurley some time ago so that Dig didn't have to go down the pub at midnight again, telling her he was just off to bed. To get round that awkwardness, he then had to wave the keys about ostentatiously, which either made it all better or worse, depending on who was watching. Anyway, she lost the keys a few days ago, which peed Grit off mightily.

So now I put down my shopping bag to pick up our lost keys, and the vinegar bottle falls from the bag and shatters, exploding vinegar everywhere but mostly in Grit's right foot.

By the time I get in the house, I am not in the best of tempers. I slap the keys down on the kitchen table and grab a wet towel to douse down my vinegared foot. Elizabeth Hurley seems entirely oblivious to the towel performance. She delights in the appearance of the keys and pounces on them, snatching them up and jingling them happily in the air. While I am mopping down my leg, she proudly points to the kitchen scales and the weight of blackberries that she's picked from the garden that morning, and then gleefully suggests that now I have come home I might make some more jam since she does not like the Hartley's.

So now I've come into the office to scream. I am still fuming about the chutney, whose key ingredient is soaking up my trouserleg, and I am still fuming about having found our house keys sitting on the path outside the house, merely lacking the sign 'Please use me to break in and take all possessions'. And I do not feel like making blackberry jam.

On the other hand, I do feel like sitting with my diary, counting the days to October 11th.

Monday, 24 September 2007

An excellent Monday

The first thing that makes today doubly excellent is that Monday is the day when a collection of home educators meet at a local pub. So while Squirrel, Shark and Tiger muck about with other home ed kids in the play area at the pub garden, I can have an excellent time, legitimately drinking beer in the afternoon while pretending it is a sacrifice I have to make to ensure effective socialisation of my children.

The second excellent thing that happens today is that the kids start scrumping apples from the very fine apple tree that is in the pub garden. Their collection techniques, led by a few of the mothers, are admirable. They include throwing apples at the apples, grabbing low hanging branches and swinging about on them, and sending Lizzy, who is very thin and long, to shin up the tree and climb as far along a branch as she can go without falling out.

And of course there is some proper education going on, which is also excellent. For example, some of the home ed kids have to learn not to stand under the apple tree while Lizzie is up it, giving it a jolly good shaking.

And finally, the most excellent thing of all is that after the beer I get to nick the apples the home ed kids have been spending over an hour cooperatively collecting, thanks to Grit having a spare bag and a greedy eye for free food.

So on Monday all points are ticked. If I am ever grassed up to the local authority, I can reassure them that my children have an effective social life on Mondays at the pub, they engage in appropriate learning experiences suitable for their age and ability, and it is all achieved making maximum use of local resources. And the chutney is excellent.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

A birthday breakfast

It is Grit's birthday today and so a glass of whisky to start the day is permissable. Anyway, I need to get through until breakfast. Dig told the children yesterday of the imminent joy that is mother's 147th birthday and they are planning a morning surprise.

Of course I have to pretend to be ignorant of the upcoming surprise. Especially when a Tiger, or a Shark or a Squirrel bursts into the office where I am now hiding and asks sweetly whether I am planning to go into the kitchen yet for breakfast. Dig tells me that unless he instructs me otherwise by code, the answer is 'No'.

Throughout these performances, the innocent face that I have to display is, quite frankly, killing me, so I reach for the brandy. What I really want to answer is 'I want my muesli. Stop doing what you are doing. Put the felt tip pens down. Mop up the liquid. If you wrap streamers around the kitchen again I will go beserk with the wooden spoon painted like a dolly, at which point I cannot be held responsible for my actions.'

Dig assures me there is no liquid involved. He says it is not streamers either but that everyone is cooperating and not fighting and there is no blood or paint. I say it is an hour and a half since I woke up and drenched myself in coffee and it's about time I had my breakfast. The corpse smile that I'm keeping about me is starting to hurt, and unless I get my muesli and soya milk soon the tetchiness will take over and I'm going to explode or die or both. Dig says he will go and chivvy them along a bit and off he goes.

Ten minutes pass and he's back, with an open mouth and a look of astonishment. I fear the worse. But no. It is Elizabeth Hurley. She is up and having breakfast. In my seat.

'Do you know what she just said to me?' asks Dig.
'She stood up in front of me, put her hands on her hips and said "I am very angry!" '
Now it's Grit's turn to be astonished. 'What have they done to her?' I ask.
'Nothing!' cries Dig.

Well, Elizabeth Hurley is angry indeed. Apparently she says the children woke her up this morning at 7.30 by chattering in the schoolroom. She says this is unacceptable. This is her day off and she deserves not to be disturbed by children in the morning. She says she has got up early thanks to the noise and she has had to eat her breakfast surrounded by noise and it is not nice.

Dig is equally outraged. He points out that this is the family flat and today is a day of celebration. I would like to think he added 'Shove it' but I bet he didn't, partly because he doesn't know how to say that in French but also I suspect that the thought of an enraged Elizabeth Hurley might be more than a man can bear before a shower and after only two cups of coffee.

'Well what have the children been doing?' I ask. I know I'll blow the surprise but hey-ho, a cross Elizabeth Hurley is more than I want to face too on my birthday day with no breakfast.

'Drawing Happy Birthday cards and blowing up balloons' answers Dig. What? No streamers? No. No liquid? No. No lying down screaming on the floor? No. Lots of happy chatter and anticipation of cake for breakfast. Which there isn't any, incidentally. Dig adds that Shark is very proud because she can tie knots in the balloon end, but not always. So for those balloons blown up she is tying a piece of string around the end, very tight indeed.
'And is there much noise?' I ask.
'Nothing out of the ordinary' says Dig.

So there you have it. Grit drinking on an empty stomach while Shark, Squirrel and Tiger take nearly two hours to make a birthday surprise happen by blowing up lots of balloons and making cards. I wonder if Dig has deliberately given out misleading information to Squirrel who has written 'Happy Barfday' on hers. As I eventually and joyously contemplate my muesli I give everyone top marks for cooperation on balloon handling, string tying and card making. And secretly I note that thanks to the string, the balloons will all deflate by tea-time which makes clearing-up easier.

And Elizabeth Hurley, who is very cross indeed, disappeared by stomping off to her room and slamming the door.

Thus the Grit household felt fully exonerated after failing to invite her for a splendid autumn walk through the parks followed by a celebration family lunch down at the local curry house and the last couple of hours down at the kiddie theme park.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Saturday morning lessons

It's 8.40 and Grit, Squirrel and Tiger are sitting in the car outside Twig's ballet studio. Grit is delighted. Grit is Smug Mother. Grit is early. We are not now the family who is late. We are the family who is early.

In reality, being early is the only reason to be smug. I am not smug that Squirrel is taking ballet lessons for her exam. No. For that I am broke. Squirrel's extra lessons for her ballet exam start costing me from today. First the exam entrance fee. Then the lesson fee. Then the hire of hall, pianist, and examiner. And the cost of new ballet socks because apparently the ones with threads hanging out will not do.

I have worked out that ballet exams for 7-year olds are the means of scamming parents up and down the country of just another hundred quid so their little Squirrels can point their toes at a stranger who says well done and passes over a certificate. So far Grit and all the little junior grits have resisted the certification process.

We've resisted it in swimming (twelve quid when Tiger, Shark and Squirrel swim to the end of the pool); we've resisted it in gym (fifteen quid if they manage to stand on a bar without falling off); we've resisted it in trampoline (a tenner to say everyone can jump up and down); and we've resisted it in violin (OK then, we are not even on the list here: after three years Tiger is as inept as week one).

However this time Squirrel is determined to get that certificate. She's even getting out a bed early, at 8 in the morning - and for a Squirrel who didn't manage it down the stairs yesterday before 10.30 for breakfast, 8 in the morning is pretty good going. Which is how she's in the car outside the ballet studio at 8.44, when Twig should be here, starting the first exam lesson.

Well, at 8.45 Grit is rattling the doors of the dance studio. Clearly there's no-one here. Strange. No-one else seems to have been as punctual as we have, either. None of the ballet mums are here, which is highly unusual, because they are normally parking the 4x4s now and leaping out, dragging behind them Snowdrop, kitted out in an ironed ballet uniform and bun, just looking like proper ballerinas should look. With the absence of the ballet mums I'm getting a bit suspicious, so telephone Dig who checks that I have the right date and the right time and, most importantly, the right year. I ask him to make double sure it says 2007 on the exam letter and not 2008, just in case.

While Dig's checking the day, month, time and year, at least I can be satisfied that having Squirrel at ballet means there is extra pressure to get Tiger out of her bed and sat in the car ready to go to her violin lesson, which starts at 9.00.

Tiger on the violin is a sound no-one wants to hear. I have almost cried in pain. Nevertheless, Tiger has stuck at the lessons, even though she has given up the practice. On the violin front, Tiger is drinking in the last chance saloon, and she knows it, and is confessing that she's only keeping up the pretence of learning how to play the violin so she can see Miss Honey, who is her violin teacher. We've called her Miss Honey because she is so sweet and nice and patient in listening to Tiger play the violin, and she never shouts 'I can't bear it anymore!' like mummy Grit.

At 8.55 we have to conclude everyone else is late. Either that or it is an elaborate hoax to play a trick on Grit, or everyone else knows something we don't and they're not coming at all. Anyway, it's time to get Tiger to violin, so with a sulking ballerina in the car, we head off to the next lesson.

By now, we are late. Not at late as Miss Honey. Miss Honey doesn't get to the lesson until 9.20. I suspect that, because she is so sweet and nice, she doesn't like to confess out loud that she's given up on us because for the last two weeks Tiger hasn't turned up at all, and in fact mummy Grit has sent in a letter which effectively says 'I give up'.

Well we haven't given up today. Tiger makes everyone's ears hurt by torturing her horsehair for five minutes and then I take the sulky ballerina home to puzzle over the letter again.

But let's look on the bright side. By the time we get home at 9.45, Shark's just rolling out of bed for breakfast.

Tennis starts at 10.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Brown. Not fresh.

You might have noticed that I am always late with these blog entries. On that point, I seem to have been doing some explaining recently in one way or another. Well, I am going to explain the procedure here, so that when someone asks me what I am doing and why the blog is always late, then I can say 'look on the blog' because the explanation is here.

Actually, saying 'look on the blog' is becoming the perfect reply for everything, as well as providing a great excuse to not say anything to anyone if I don't feel like it, so when the polite inquiry comes, 'how are you Grit?' I can say, 'look on the blog' and leave it at that.

Now I'm thinking about it, perhaps I do not need to speak at all, which would suit me fine on extra-grumpy and depressed days, but I could wear a badge that reads 'Grit happens. Look on the blog' and then I can just grunt and point.

Well anyway, since someone asked, this is what happens. Each day I crash into the office and type very badly and quickly into the computer something that happened. Then, when I have time, I go back and rewrite what I wrote so that nearly all the spelling mistaikes are gone and the grammar is better and all that, with punctuation too, if I can manage it.

Sometimes I astonish myself, or I get left alone for a few hours, and then I catch up on all the dates and the draft entries, nearly completely. But in reality I do not have a lot of time. And for that explanation there's the label.

In truth, this wasn't the post I intended for today. But clearly I was pressed for time, because I only have the following three words in my draft version, and right now I cannot make head nor tail of them. But here they are, just in case you were wondering what happened in Grit's world today.

Brown. Not fresh.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

The knee

Elizabeth Hurley has a malformed knee. She says it is congenital and her grandfather had it. She makes a wiggly shape with her fingers at the site of the knee and I obviously look puzzled, because Elizabeth Hurley then rolls up her trouser leg and shows me the knee. 'Do you see?' she says, pointing at her genou. Actually, I see what looks like a perfectly ordinary knee. A bit knobbly, but there again it gets fed a lot of jam in the mornings, so I rather hope the knobbly bits are fatty lumps on the way to being a size 24 genou.

Anyway, she cannot stand upright now because of her malformed knee. This means she is unable to do the washing up after supper. I do not point out that the malformed knee seems to have been acquired today after the cooking of a dozen muffins and before the clearing up. Neither was the malformed knee an impediment to going down the local market this morning and buying a pair of stilettos for a night out at a disco on Saturday night with some new found friends acquired at the local pub. And I bet come Saturday morning the malformed knee is perfectly flexible once more.

Perhaps I look sceptical. Because Elizabeth Hurley then offers the very credible excuse that she got her injury today while being a horse to amuse Shark. So I equip her with a hottle bottle to wrap round her malformed knee and Dig accuses me of doing that deliberately so I have things to blog.

And actually, while we are on the subject of injuries and looking for something to blog, Grit has a very tender left buttock today after falling down the attic stairs last night.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Science vs art

I'm feeling a bit brighter today. With Elizabeth Hurley at home nursing her hand, we're driving the kids to the Space Centre in Leicester. Here we've a workshop booked with Am and Jol and lots of other home educators. Dig's coming because he hopes we'll do some proper science. So, en famille again, things are looking decidedly up.

And indeed everything goes very well. The Grit and Dig family arrive late and get bundled into the Planets show at the theatre, which we reckon is much better than the Night and Day show. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are all enthused by the displays and Grit is happy because there's a panel on astronomy through history.

Then comes the workshop. Here we're going to make rockets. Actually, the kids are making them from paper rolls and film canisters while I get in some tip-top quality chat time with Jol. Dig is sitting at the back grumbling about the quality of the science and saying it is more like an art and craft lesson. I agree, but it is not worth interrupting tip-top quality time for that, so largely ignore him. Off he goes to try and introduce some scientific concepts round the girly table as they are all doing their colouring in.

Squirrel is colouring her rocket with pinks and greens and will not explode it with a jet of gas from a fizzy tablet because she does not want to spoil the pattern. Dig gets peeved and starts telling everyone there's a scientific principle operating here and whoever saw a pink rocket with roses on it anyway.

I must say Dig's putting in some work. He promises that the picture of the unicorn will remain intact after explosion thanks to the gravitational pull of the earth, so Tiger gives in, as does Shark, who reluctantly watches in a mixture of dismay and delight as her rocket, sporting a picture of a dolphin, soars into the air and then lands to ground with just the faintest of buckled noses. Squirrel's not persuaded. She refuses to join in point blank. Her rocket now has a rainbow on it. She's sellotaped the lid on as additional security from Dig, so there's nowhere to put the fizzy tablet fuel.

Am, encouraged by all this activity, and who has been making a delightful patterned rocket with the rest of the girly troupe around the art and craft table, joins the queue to explode her rocket.

And my goodness, it does explode. It goes up into the air, higher, faster and more amazingly than anyone else's. And it doesn't come down. It gets stuck in the overhead light at the highest point of the ceiling.

Am is distraught. Well, actually, Am is beside herself with the loss of a very fine coloured rocket. And everyone tries to comfort her. Including Dig, who cheerily says, 'Very successful!' And Am screams.

Am's scream is hugely impressive. It is very Queen of the Night and possibly pitch perfect. It is better than Tiger's, who can manage a proper scream or two, and it is certainly better than Squirrel, who has not been on best screaming form lately. Indeed, Am's scream is so lengthy and amazing that it comes very close to the scream that Shark did while rolling in the gutter on the day of the bike ride. Am's scream is highly impressive, and I'd give it a 9.5 with extra stars for an honourable mention.

And Dig, you just have to remember that ladies of delicate dispositions, when they have just lost their pink rockets, are not at that moment interested in an explanation of Newton's first law of motion.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Toot toot!

Whoop-de-doo! While out collecting blackberries to bully Grit into making more blackberry jam, Elizabeth Hurley has fallen into a ditch! And not only that! The ditch was festooned with nettles!

Monday, 17 September 2007

The last straw

This is a whine about Elizabeth Hurley.

So if you enjoy reading complaining whines about people you don't have to suffer, read on. If it makes you impatient that Grit and Dig are too weedy to get rid of her, read on.

1. Breakfast is very important for Elizabeth Hurley. So important that she can drink all the milk for the children's cereal. Then, when I come into the kitchen on my way to my getting-up shower, EH waves the empty milk bottle at me, saying 'there is no milk'.

2. Jam is very important too. It might be more important than milk. Complaining that there is no jam in the house is a sign of its significance. Yes, Elizabeth. That's because I've hidden the 14 pots of home-made jam to stop you eating them. In exchange, I put out two pots of Hartley's which are on special offer at Tesco. Incidentally, this prompted the complaint.

3. Elizabeth Hurley is not very sensitive to her environment. She somehow picks just the wrong moment. For example, as we are rushing to get Shark, Squirrel and Tiger out the house to a lesson I've paid for (therefore they are going) Hurley asks if I can teach her how to use the microwave. I don't know how to use it myself, so the only answer is no. I get a very impatient glower.

4. Everyone seems to have an allergy to something these days. Elizabeth Hurley is allergic to the vacuum cleaner and washing machine. Despite being asked to vacuum the floor (we have to be specific after Sasha) and wash Squirrel's bedding, nothing is done. Even when we have been out the house for five hours to give her the chance to get her head round it.

5. In fact, when we are out the house for five hours, the house looks exactly the same when we enter as it did when we left. Last night's towels are on the sofa where the children left them. The popped balloon bits remain on the schoolroom floor. The laundry has taken up its usual place of spilling around the kitchen and Hurley has done her usual trick of emptying the dishwasher after I have placed it on rinse, so all the pots are covered in a fine layer of potato starch, rancid milk and greasy butter slime. All the crockery is stacked on the worksurface as usual because EH never puts anything away, claiming she does not know where it goes.

6. When EH eventually does the laundry, she puts all the powder into the hole for fabric conditioner. Grit wonders if she has done it deliberately.

7. Asking us to find the keys to the front door which she realises she lost yesterday when going to the pub is not a good way to start to the day.

8. Taking my place at the dining table was bad enough. Becoming so useless that Grit now has to clean the toilet to Elizabeth Hurley's room is edging to the final straw.

9. The final straw. It is supper time. Elizabeth Hurley has said she feels tired today and would like soup. So I cook potage bonne femme for her and pasta for everyone else. Then I call everyone to the table. I trigger Tiger's temper tantrum. I call Tiger to the table and she doesn't want to come. But now we are late to eat and I am weary and I want to keep out the way by pushing off to Tesco to buy jam, leaving Dig to calm things down. When I get back from Tesco, everyone's eaten. That I'm not upset by. I am upset by the fact that Elizabeth Hurley has cleared up only her soup bowl. Everything else is at the kitchen table. So at 10pm tonight I am tired, hungry, and clearing up the kitchen.

It's enough. The flight back home is rescheduled, not for Hurley's preference in December, but for October 11.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Selling stuff

I am doing research. Down at the local car boot sale with Squirrel.

In the cupboard under the stairs, on the shelves in the schoolroom, and in the falling down garage, we have lots of stuff. For a start we have lots of baby Thomas plastic. Clarabell and Diesel, Percy and Bertie, Gordon, George and Henry are all waiting somewhere, plus five of Thomas himself, one with teeth marks from a dog that's not ours, and one that's painted pink.

And of course that's not all. There's bags of clothes, DVDs, toys, bric-a-brac from the Northumberland pile and mummy Grit's posh clothes in black sacks stored under the eaves.

It can be a particular problem storing anything in black bin bags, actually. Foolishly, I once stashed away a black woollen coat bought in a sale from the old Dickins & Jones when it was on Regent Street. A snip at £125 down from £250, with velvet lining on cuffs, front and hood. I put it in the hall, knowing that I always put out rubbish on a Thursday night and would be sure not to throw away the black bin bag containing my woollen coat, waiting to go upstairs for summer storage. And Dig of course never put out the rubbish on a Thursday night since the day I moved in here in 1988. Except, of course, the night I incidentally store an expensive woollen coat in a black bin bag and put it at the foot of the stairs. Now, as autumn strikes, I often think of my velvet lined woollen coat somewhere right at this moment, rotting in a landfill.

Anyway, apart from chucking Thomas and his friends in the landfill, I could of course give it all away. Well, in truth, sometimes I do give it to a worthy cause, although with less regularity now, thanks to Sally. I gave a Max Mara jacket to Sally. She looks after cats and was in need of items of value to sell for a poor puss in distress. Without a second glance of reverance, Sally stuffed my Max Mara jacket into a Netto carrier bag and proclaimed, 'That'll do for the car boot'. Sorrowfully I decided then and there the cats can get stuffed and so began to horde the Max Mara jackets until the day they can go to a worthy cause. Unfortunately I've never found a cause quite as worthy as Grit, so any other item of diminishing value is stored in black bins under the eaves, out of sight of Dig.

There's ebay of course. I could sell things on ebay. Apart from the fact that I am possibly the only woman in England who cannot manage to get a PayPal account for herself. So potential buyers take note. There's no effing point offering Pay Pal because Grit is too dense to make the thing work. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say I send out a lot of cheques for small amounts.

Freecycle has been good. I've exchanged rubbish for treasure, time and time again. But as far as Thomas and Percy go I have a sneaky suspicion that the Thomas I'm giving away will end up at the car boot I'm looking at, which makes me think I may as well do it myself.

Only I'm quickly realising the shortcomings of the local car boot. I have to get up at 4.00 am to be down there for 5.00 am, which is when it opens to traders. Then I set up my wallpaper pasting table, and I stay there. Until 3.00 pm. And I'd better not drink coffee to stop myself falling asleep over Thomas. Because if I'm there alone, with no-one else to mind the wallpaper table, I cannot protect lovely Thomas and all his little friends from being nicked. Actually, by about 7.00 am, I might prefer Thomas and his friends to be nicked so I can wee in one of the four stinking and overflowing portaloos located round the back of the kebab van.

And so my research is currently stalled. Worse, at the car boot I end up spending 2.50 on a ballerina jewellery box for Squirrel and six books on the Romans for me.

Any ideas for selling Thomas and a select amount of upmarket clothing gratefully received.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Smalltown event

It's the Annual Scarecrow Festival in Smalltown. This is bizarre, even for the Grit household. Smalltown doesn't have an agricultural history, unless you count the fact that farmer Lewis had his land bought up by a Victorian railway company. Because Smalltown's houses were built for railway workers. Anyhow, this small procedural item hasn't thwarted the Events Committee at Smalltown Parish Community Centre. And so we have the Annual Scarecrow Festival.

We've gone along with this gamely enough for the past few years. We made a very fine scarecrow out of newspaper and plastic bags and propped her outside the front door. We called her Doreen. We left her in Dig's toilet for an entire year, propped with her face against the wall to spare her blushes. Doreen came out again a year later and got married to Stan, who wore an old suit of Dig's. He had to be propped up against a step ladder because he kept falling over. Then last year Doreen met with an unfortunate accident when her torso came apart in my hands. Sadly, I had to crack her spine in two and shove her in a bin bag to get rid of her before the children found out. Naturally, I said a few words.

So this year we are Doreenless. And mummy Grit is grumping around the house complaining about the ruddy Scarecrow Festival. So the junior grits decide they will be in charge of the scarecrow making and the adults are not to join in. I tell them that will be the best thing ever. I don't tell them that Doreen was a professional bit of artistry before her lungs fell out, so live up to that standard otherwise we will be the laughing stock in the Scarecrow Festival.

Shark makes a firebird from newspaper and masking tape. She paints it red and sticks it in the hedge. I say how lovely it is. I don't say that it doesn't look like a bird at all, and that it looks like the letter T. But Shark's happy enough, as is Tiger, who makes a flying horse. The horse is so tiny that when Dig puts it in the hedge it's almost completely covered by overgrown privet. Perhaps it's just as well. Tiger didn't want to paint it, and the masking tape's coming off the toilet roll. I say how lovely it is too. Then Squirrel makes a fairy. What a complete mess. Basically it's a lot of newspaper twisted round a bean pole and painted white. There's no head, arms, legs or anything, just a lump of newspaper, onto which is strapped a couple of wings. So I say how brilliant it is, and add, if I didn't know better, I'd say I'd just seen a fairy.

Well I needn't have worried. The standard wasn't that high this year. The local library made some scarecrows to do with childrens rhymes. By the time we got there, the storyteller's head had blown off. The very hungry caterpillar, composed of green plastic bags, had half his segments missing, so Shark spent some time wondering why there was a line of peas hanging from the library tree.

Down the street there was a Mary Poppins. She started off well, hanging out someone's bedroom window. But by the end of the day she'd twisted a funny angle on her wire and her head had come off. With both arms flapping lifelessly in the breeze, it looked a bit like somone had slung a headless corpse out the window as a warning to others.

Then there was the gardener scarecrow who was sat on top of his shed. He disappeared by midday. As did the ballerina up the lamp-post outside the dance studio where Squirrel has her ballet lessons, and grandma in the bed outside the bed shop.

At the school it looked like the setting for some surreal play. They had a male scarecrow in a tie and striped shirt with his head impaled on a spiky railing. Perhaps he was the Ofsted inspector. Further down there's a boy scarecrow in a scout uniform lying nearly flat with just his scarf tied onto the railings. He looks like he's hanged himself. And goodness knows what they were thinking of when we get to the female in this collection. She doesn't look like she ever had a head. Her bra is on the outside of her shirt. And there appears to be a long cardboard tube coming out from under her skirt.

Then the others are fairly predictable. Elvis always makes an appearance. As does granny asleep with a pigeon on her shoulder. There's a collection of cats, a gardener in his wheelbarrow, and a pirate. A soldier scarecrow stretched flat on the roof of a car is clever, as is the mountaineering couple going up the wall of number 16, and the giant sheep in a deck chair reading a comic.

The best is a couple, which we all say Ahh to, and mean it. Aged in their 70s, they've made scarecrow replicas of themselves. Stan's worked at the railway all his life, and Doreen at the printer's. They're sitting outside their house, with a scarecrow Stan and Doreen, looking like doubles, all wearing the same clothes and the same wizened features. Doreen looks like her cardigan's keeping her neck and head in place, and Stan looks like he's made of crumpled newspaper under the stiff fabric of his railway jacket.

Well it inspires me again for next year. I just have to get past firebird, flying horse and fairy, now carefully stowed in a corner of the schoolroom, probably hoping to come out again next year.

Friday, 14 September 2007


Today is a day when I discover why I'm finding it so difficult to live with Elizabeth Hurley. She's hopeless as an au pair. But she's a personable character. She teaches us a bit of French and she cooks a few fruit tarts.

Well, this is what happens today. And it's nothing more than the smallest of moments.

This term, there's no swimming lessons for Grit and all the little junior Grits. The self-sacrifice required was tipping me over the edge. First the routine of dragging myself through someone else's bathwater every Wednesday morning. And then being broke, thanks to tennis lessons. And then there's the trauma of getting everyone in and out the car without a fight breaking out over a woggle. Plus the chances of Tiger making it through the lesson without going bonkers at Fish is zero. When we get home there's nothing to eat but raw potatoes. And as Shark, Squirrel and Tiger can swim some required meters, for the moment I've decided my self-sacrifice in this direction is complete.

So this term I decided we swim when we want to. Or rather, since I cannot take three children aged under eight into the pool, I can take two in when I want to, or I can palm one onto Elizabeth Hurley and I don't go swimming at all. In fact, there are lots of possibilities opening up now I don't feel I have to go.

But Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are not aged eight yet. So today Shark goes swimming with Hurley and I take Squirrel round Ikea. Tiger stays at home, where I hope she is not snarling at Dig. Tiger has taken against Elizabeth Hurley, which I'm sympathising with, but we have told her it is bad grace to chant 'If she's going I'm not going!' even if I say that myself. But Tiger, I say, I try not to chant it in front of the person I'm referring to.

Anyway, I enjoy a quiet hour with Squirrel in Ikea. We spend nearly £20 on a pot to hold tomato sauce and some other essential items I forget right now, all because Ikea don't have the embroidered lampshade at £3.50 we came in here for.

Then it's lunch, and I have yet to cook it, so me and Squirrel go back to the swimming pool to collect Shark and Hurley. We wait for Shark and Hurley. And we wait. And we wait some more. And some more. Then we wait a bit longer, even though Grit has gone striding in to the changing rooms (twice) shouting 'Depeche-toi!' and some other choice words which I hope neither Shark nor Hurley can properly understand. I have a very hungry Squirrel in the car. At home there is a hungry Dig, uncertain what to do about lunch for us all, and a very, very, hungry Tiger, who does not do well on hunger pangs. And then there's a famished Grit. Shark, struggling out of the changing room with towels, woggle, bikini, and goggles on her head, says she is hungry too, and asks what is for lunch.

Well, I say to Shark, I will have to make something quick when we get home. We just have to wait for Elizabeth Hurley to blow-dry her hair. And we wait some more.

Then I wonder why Elizabeth Hurley isn't gnawing at the swimming pool floor tiles in desperation like the rest of us. Ah, of course. She's taken a large packet of digestives to the poolside. And scoffed them.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Pass me the whisky

Part of Elizabeth Hurley's brain is missing. Perhaps she has packed it inside a pickle jar and it is hidden in one of the enormous suitcases she has had flown from Nice at a cost to her mother of 300 Euros. I don't know. But I've had my suspicions for some time. Here is the evidence.

1. Part of Elizabeth Hurley is distinctly plasticised. She has these beige lips which, like those glow-in-the-dark plastic fangs Tesco sells for Hallowe'en, are inserted around her mouth at going-out time. Going-out time can be to the playground, the farm, the Co-op, the pub or to the bottom of the garden. The lips are very smooth and shiny and look a bit detachable. Also, she does not move her mouth much when she has her lips inserted.

2. When Dig took Shark, Squirrel, Tiger and Elizabeth Hurley to the kiddie theme park, Elizabeth Hurley said she had fun on the kiddie rides and roller coaster but was a bit disappointed because it was all not Disney enough. She was expecting more plastic trees, Mickey Mouse and, preferably, some singing flowers. The absence of these was a sad disappointment.

3. Pixies exist. It's true. Elizabeth Hurley has proof. Here's her story. Put your plastic lips in, then tell it to yourself while you wear a very intense, possibly French-looking expression, slap your hand flat on the table to emphasise your main point, and open your eyes wide at the astonishing conclusion. At which point, also declare, in a French accent, 'Incroyable? Mais vrai!'

'My muzzer, she keep a bottle of whisky on ze shelf, la. Zeez bottle is always full. She never like whisky. Me, I never like whisky. Zeez bottle, always there. Zen, one morning, we come to the kitchen, and la! C'est la verite! Zeez bottle, it is empty! Who could have drunk zee whisky? My muzzer? Non. Moi? Non. Zee Pixies. Oui. Incroyable? Mais vrai!'

So here is Grit, thrust into a land of insertable lips, plastic flowers and naughty pixies, where the words 'chalk' and 'cheese' are everyday now becoming more idiomatically appropriate.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Small mercy

Things are closing in on Grit again. This means there must be something which happens during the day to keep me alive enough to want to feel the wind blowing on my face.

So this, provided by Shark, leaning against the shopping trolley and grumbling after being told by mummy Grit to stop complaining and keep a sharp look out, while mummy Grit hides round the back of the bananas like a leopard about to pounce.

And Shark drones in a loud voice: 'What's so good about Tesco anyway? Apart from the man with the reduced stickers.'

Exactly, Shark. Ten packets of nectarines at 10p a pack coming your way.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

No kneeling at the British Museum

Me and Squirrel flee the house today, leaving Dig to take Elizabeth Hurley off to the farm to pick leeks. I think this might be good therapy for Elizabeth Hurley, interacting with some local-grown vegetables while up to her knees in soil with a garden fork, instead of picking off the ripest exotic mangos from Waitrose with Grit's bank account.

Meanwhile, I'm taking Squirrel to London, on a big trip to the British Museum, because we both love it. I equip Squirrel with a sketchbook and crayons and mummy Grit's new Viking braiding disk so Squirrel can learn how to make braided bracelets on the train journey.

The weather is beautiful, the train journey effortless, the bracelet-making straightforward, the bus trip fun, and the British Museum full of wonderful things, waiting to be explored.

Squirrel, just like Shark and Tiger, loves drawing things that catches her eye. She manages a 2000 year old terracotta horse from Cyprus, a beautiful Sumerian necklace and a swan from Constantinople which has a label that it might have been part of a fountain, and dates from Roman times.

Squirrel's method of drawing is to kneel in front of her carefully chosen, treasured object and delicately draw it out. I think the result beautiful. And as she squats there, the reaction from the people who come and go forms a pattern. They stop, lean over Squirrel to peer at her drawings, smile, touch the arm of their companion, who leans over too, murmuring quiet approval of Squirrel's studious composition, and they move on. Squirrel, unaware and unselfconscious, continues drawing her lovely pictures and mummy Grit stands apart and glows with pride.

We get into the Egyptian room and listen to a petite lady called Katherine telling us about funeral rites in Egyptian times and Egypt's relationship with Nubia. Squirrel listens throughout. We've looked at Egypt so many times that she's familiar with the histories, and Katherine's lively talk makes it all the better. And when petite Katherine shows Squirrel the limestone block from the pyramids, Squirrel says she wants to go to Egypt and Grit thinks home ed is possibly the best thing in the entire world.

And then Squirrel squats in front of a wooden boat, low down in a cabinet, and begins to draw the little people there. The pilot and the oarsmen, the shields and gentle shape of the curving boat. 'Mummy' she calls, 'where are the oars?' Over I go and kneel next to her, reading the caption. Our eyes fasten on the woods carved by the craftsman thousands of years before.

Suddenly there's a shout somewhere above our heads. It pierces our little bubble of imagination. It caws crow-sound into our Egyptian world. 'You are not allowed to kneel!'

I look up. So absorbed are we in our Egyptian world that for a moment I am lost for words, incomprehending at the bizarre directive. Above me is a hard face and chopping hands which come down around us.

'You are not allowed to kneel' shouts the face again. 'Here!' The hands chop the space around us, dividing us apart and marking out our great offence. 'This is a trafficway!'

Now Grit is dumbfounded. Me and Squirrel have both tucked up close together to the cabinet, intent and absorbed. We are in a gallery which is routinely blocked by thirty and more noisy schoolchildren with chaperones, pushing hands and faces against the glass cabinets, pointing at the exhibits, giggling and shoving, while all other visitors must divert or push their own way through, unable to hear, or see, or talk much about the noise. Today there are no schoolchildren, just me and Squirrel and the people who pass, smiling at Squirrel's drawings. And now our momentary world has been spoiled.

So Grit slowly stands. And shouts back, since this seems to be required. 'Well! We will not kneel! We will stand!' And then I bend over to stick out my bottom. And clearly, Grit's ample backside takes up quite a bit of trafficway. I point at my backside. 'And let's hope no-one trips over that!'

Now when you visit the British Museum, please remember that you are not allowed to kneel. Because around the corner there is 'a minor factotum whose only status comes from enforcing otherwise petty regulations'.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Isn't this all the wrong way round?

Well in truth this au pair business is hard work.

Here we are, some days into the regime of the new au pair and I'm suffering. It's not that Elizabeth Hurley is a horrible monster, because she's not. She's not locked herself in her room and refused to come out. She's not insulted the children, spent hours on the telephone or called me a stupid English cow. And yet I'm finding Elizabeth Hurley quite difficult to live with.

So I conclude it's me that's difficult to live with. And I'm analysing just what niggles me.

1. For a start, Elizabeth Hurley takes my place at the kitchen table. Now this may seem petty. But quite a lot of home ed things hang from it. For example, at breakfast, when I've a captive audience with their mouths stuffed full of Cheerios, I get out the book on Blackbeard, or Marco Polo, or echolocation in bats, and I read it aloud. And from this small kitchen-table start I might be rewarded with pictures of bats, or Marco Polo, or Blackbeard. I'll get captions to go with the pictures, some of Blackbeard's loot made from silver paper; someone making ginger ice cream for Marco Polo; someone making paper bats to hang from the ceiling, and someone reading Pirate Pete's Adventure. But the gentle rhythm of our morning lesson routine is disrupted. And I get to sit in the visitor's chair.

2. Elizabeth Hurley eats. My goodness, she eats. She eats anything that is not made of metal, wood, plastic or fibreboard. I suspect she'd have a go at the latter if left more than an hour unattended without a snack. I am a visitor at the kitchen table and now very poor indeed.

3. Elizabeth Hurley leaves stuff all over the house. There's sports trousers on the washing line, a hairbrush and make up in the schoolroom; vitamin tablets in the kitchen, books on the tables. I clear this lot up daily. So I'm a poor visitor in my own house who cleans for the au pair.

4. Elizabeth Hurley has not touched the laundry, wiped the bathroom sink, looked in the direction of the vacuum cleaner, or attempted any tidying in the front room. She has, however, cooked three tarts, one fruit crumble, two cakes, a caramel and some blackberry ice cream. I'm a poor visitor who does the cleaning and is getting fat on a sugar and butter diet which I've paid for.

5. Elizabeth Hurley has commented, not once, not twice, but three times now about the children. And not about how cute they are either. Rather in a way which has me defending our home ed and our pathetic attempts at Plan B (proactive version) at 11 o'clock at night. I'm a poor, fat visitor who does the cleaning and is rehearsing her lines for the law courts.

6. Elizabeth Hurley has so far managed to get Dig to take her to the pub, bring her back from the pub and go shopping with her in Tesco. The latter is a feat I have never managed without a fight. So now I'm a poor, fat visitor who does the cleaning, is going to court and whose husband is being led astray with tarte au fruits courtesy of an au pair who incidentally looks like Elizabeth Hurley.

I wonder why I'm getting niggled.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Small minded

It's the Fun Day at our local medieval site. A middle-aged woman with dyed black hair and polyester trousers is charged with taking us round to see the pilgrim chapel, opened a few times each year to the public.

The tour starts off alright, when she's giving us some local history about the medieval relationships between priory and abbey. Then she says the monks became greedy and the abbey split away.

Well that doesn't sound like a very thorough answer based on any analysis of medieval politics. So Grit starts to ask questions which begin with the word 'Why'. I know Dig's told me off before for doing this, but I just can't help myself. What I wish for is for the person I'm speaking to either to give me a good analysis in response, or just politely get rid of me by saying something like 'I don't know', or 'That would be an interesting area for research' and leave it there.

But no. Polyester woman says that's how medieval people were. Greedy. Now Grit gets into a heated discussion with polyester woman about whether medieval people were greedy or not. Everyone else gets bored, and wishes we would both shut up,

After ten minutes of to-ing and fro-ing I start making showy-off comments about medieval politics thanks to a book I'm reading on life in the 14th century, and add how I think medieval peasants might be just like us, and not just greedy but affected by events out of their immediate surroundings.

At this point polyester woman gets fed up with me making smart-arsed comments about the medieval marketplace in the reign of Richard II and tells me outright that I'm wrong. Then it gets personal.

Polyester woman asks me where I live. She says that's not good enough for me to be able to form an opinion because I haven't seen a proper medieval village like hers. Looking down her nose at me, polyester woman says she lives in village smaller than Smalltown and she should know just how insular, in-bred and narrow-minded people are, because the man down the road married his cousin and has never been out the village for the last 20 years. So there. And she should know what small-minded people do, she says, because the man over the road puts marrows on her doorstep and doesn't even wait for a thank you. That's how people are. Peasants may be pig ignorant and narrow minded and never go out their own village but they stick together in times of marrow harvest. So there.

And we don't need to go far either to wonder why we home educate.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

New solutions

In the middle of relationship chaos I have a solution. We are all lacking in vitamins. I've been feeding Tiger multivits for the last week, tempting Squirrel with them, and covertly starting on Shark. And now I've started on myself. So today I've cleared out the shelves at the local Health Food shop of vitamin tablets like a zombie crazoid sucking out brains.

Because I'm sure micro nutrition is a part of our failings. The answer cannot be that we are dreadful parents who live a disorganised life full of chaos, fallen-off doorhandles and broken gates. It is because I do not have enough fish oil. As everyone knows, part-time vegans do not eat enough fish.

I can take the Vitamins E, C, and A and the relaxing aroma of lavender oil. It's when I get to the horrible oil-slick with malt, fish oil and B6. It sounded disgusting even when I bought it at £4.95 a jar. Now I get it home and actually read the instructions to consume a tablespoon a day of this vile-tasting muck I start actually questioning the feasibility of the micro-nutrition solution.

But not to be defeated I then go down to Tesco and buy a jar of Green and Blacks organic chocolate spread. This I mix with the malt, fish oil and B6, and spread it on toast.

OK. I declare the micro nutrition solution over.

Friday, 7 September 2007


Off we go again. It's another heritage day history tour and I have one of the most miserable days since these alien creatures were ripped out my body. The reason? Tiger goes bonkers big time by the playground because Shark found it first.

Now this is where the book we've been slavishly following doesn't help. The Explosive Child strategy probably works if you can have a parent to child interaction. Better though in a rubber room, rather than at the playground by the cafe so that an elderly tea-time audience is guaranteed.

But what if you can't have an adult-child interaction at the first sign of meltdown? What if you are walking about the history park trying to explain in broken French why ce ne pas possibile to voir le Churchill exhibition maintenant parce que les enfants veux or whatever the bloody plural is courir about apres having voired the oh damn I don't care, je vais repondre non, non, non, nous allons au playground and if you want to join us plus tard then fine but that's it. Because look. Shark has found the playground and Tiger is in meltdown numero un.

Now I've done it. I've missed the moment before the meltdown which is Proactive Plan B and so must execute Emergency Plan B. This is what the book says. In a panic I get on the phone to Dig who's in London and who reminds me about Emergency Plan B.

Emergency Plan B is essentially the same as Proactive Plan B except that you are in a panic and want to cry. Repeat everything the child says and try to throw in a bit of empathy and understanding, even if child is shouting 'I hate you! Go away!' Then repeat, 'You hate me and you want me to go away?' At this point child goes even crazier because now you are repeating everything they're saying. And I bet there's no chapter in the book on how to deal with French au pairs who choose this moment to ask if they can use the telephone.

Well I do manage to get Tiger back down to Planet Earth by repeating everything with added empathy, and with some very careful words and collaborative problem solving, so Emergency Plan B seems to work, sort of. Plan A definitely won't, and that's see whose will is strongest. Usually, in my case, that's led to Plan C, which is to give in.

So I'm just congratulating myself on an effective Emergency Plan B when there's explosion number two.

It's time to leave because the park is closing. Here I don't even realise there is a problem until Tiger runs at me with both fists, beating me about the chest and arms as I try and deflect the blows. It's only later that I understand Shark won't play the game that Tiger wants to play on the way back to the car. Why I'm implicated in this, I'm not on the moment sure - hindsight tells me it's because I said the park's closing - but at least I take the beating, and not Shark.

Not for long. Tiger pursues Shark through the park at speed, despite my best efforts to hold her back, and proceeds to give Shark a sound thumping. At this point I try and pick up Tiger, who at age 7 is far too big and strong for me to feasibly do so. I'm shouting to Elizabeth Hurley to allez to the voiture and stop hanging about watching us in horror.

Well I could go on. I could go on at length about this lovely daughter who since June has turned into a nightmare; I could go on about how everyone stops to stare; about how dreadful this is in front of Maud and Albert who are just sitting down for a cup of tea and a slice of cake; about how I feel sure everyone can only be thinking it's the parent's fault.

And then when we get home, hours later and the rage is all spent, I have to stand in the kitchen and defend myself with Elizabeth Hurley who thinks I should just tell Tiger what she can do and what she can't. Elle ne peut pas le faire. Well, Elizabeth Hurley, thanks. I hadn't thought of that. I'll call that Plan D.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

A sight for sore eyes

Grit is going through a depressed stage right now and is struggling to find interest in anything. It needs to be worth making the effort. The alternative is to stay under the duvet and not emerge for a week.

Once supine, I could indulge a deep need to lament being, considering every Grit breath a pointless waste of oxygen that someone else might more profitably use. But instead of doing that, I attend Shark, Squirrel, Tiger, Elizabeth Hurley and Dig to go en famille to the local museum. It is a heritage day and therefore free, and we are too mean to pay. Anyway, I am broke thanks to Elizabeth Hurley chewing her way through the remnants of my bank account.

We did have an annual pass to our local museum. Actually, we probably had the first annual pass our local museum ever issued. It took about three months for the old lady to type up a three-line application form on a home computer and print it out for us to pick up at the desk. We got a bit of card with our names on, under the title Family Pass. The ticket number read 001.

But we don't have a Family Pass anymore. Partly because I no longer can afford it and partly because we don't go, even though the museum is within walking distance and I like it a lot. Even though I like it a lot, we still don't go. Sometimes I imagine I might become an enthusiastic amateur volunteer there in the Victorian schoolroom but then remember that I am crap at any job, paid or unpaid, so it's probably a bad idea.

Anyway, the real horror is not the local museum with its display of a Victorian schoolroom, threshing machine and plaster pig. It is the dreadful walk home, some 40 minutes after closing time. Tiger has gone into meltdown because, between she and me, we drop a bottle of water and it spills on the tarmac. From then on she is unmoveable and inconsolable. I manage to coax her slowly into the playground close to home where she flees into the middle of a prickly bush to hide.

She won't come out. I call Dig for emergency assistance. Dig suggests he bring out a cup of fruit juice to the prickly bush to say the water doesn't matter. This might entice Tiger out. This he duly does. And what a sight he makes to the passing mothers bringing their neatly schooled children out to play in the playground in the late afternoon sun.

Standing there, a footstep away from the prickly bush, is Dig. He looks like he's talking to it, coaxing words and softly phrased suggestions, offering it a cup of fruity juice. Then of course he stands closer. And closer. So now it looks like he's having a pee on the prickly bush. And if this isn't bad enough, he now crouches down and kneels in front of it. Now he looks like he's praying to it.

It never ceases to amaze me how something human and positive can come to me in the oddest of places. The expression on the face of the woman who lives at number 32 as she watches Dig perform his rituals and then suggest to the prickly bush that now he would like to give it a big daddy hug.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Cook's economy

Elizabeth Hurley's cooking again. Today she says she can use up the slightly stale bread with an excellent French recipe for pain perdu. This involves a pack of butter, sugar, more eggs, a vanilla pod, milk, mixed spice and star anise, plus a couple of mangos. There is the slight excuse of eight slices of stale bread, which I've found lurking at the bottom of the bread basket.

Actually, the cost of the slightly stale bread is nothing against the ripe mangos, vanilla pod and the star anise. Since the bottom of the value wok I bought some time ago at Tesco is now irrevocably burned, I could add the cost of that in too. Thus this recipe to economically use up eight slices of stale bread on a mid-afternoon snack has cost the equivalent of eleven loaves of posh fresh French bread from Waitrose.

Not that I am complaining. Dig, who has not yet had his choppers round either the lime tart or the pain perdu, says that providing a tenner for Elizabeth Hurley to go shopping with Shark to Tesco everytime she says it is time to make a snack will increase the weekly expenditure on food by a further £140 a week. Dig has capped her next snack budget at £3.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Short fuse

Well if we had a respite from an exploding Tiger yesterday, we didn't get one today.

Elizabeth Hurley offers to paint everyone's faces since this is one of her specialities. She turns Squirrel into a butterfly, Shark into three dolphins leaping from the sea, and then, disaster. Tiger asks for a pegasus flying through the air. Now, this would be difficult for anybody. Elizabeth Hurley is temporarily confused and suggests she looks at a pegasus.

Tiger is inflamed. We're not sure what Tiger thinks Elizabeth Hurley is asking for. Perhaps she thinks Elizabeth Hurley is offering to face paint the toy pegasus she keeps in her room. Whatever is the problem, there's a very short fuse between the provocation and the result.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Nosh nosh

We're finding Elizabeth Hurley's weak point. Deprived of food for fifty minutes or so she gets anxious and wobbles. She says she's not diabetic but she must have food and then proceeds to point to various parts of her intestines in a lengthy explanation of French au pair digestive needs.

Badly translated, different parts of the body require different foods otherwise we will die. Probably by this weekend. The specific terminology about which part of Elizabeth Hurley's intestines require what sort of foods escapes me, but I can understand 'Je veux absolument manger des gateaux'. I nod in agreement and ask 'Est-ce que tu veux faire un gateau? Toute de suite?' Oui, apparently.

She may have been here less than a week but already I've done two emergency shops at the Co-op, Dig's discovered his breakfast's been eaten before he's got to it, we've been forced to stop at an emergency pizza shop, a 2lb pot of home-made blackberry jam I'd fondly got out for the duration of her stay has been largely emptied, she's complained about the lack of milk in the morning, and she's made a lime tart and scoffed it.

When the lime tart cooking started yesterday I felt quite forgiving at the thought of a bit of French cuisine, even though it took six eggs in the blink of an eye. Indeed the micro-slice I managed to fight for last night tasted delicious. Shark got a preferential slice, as did Squirrel and Tiger, and Dig got none. Then the rest of the 'citroen express' was put away under the cake lid for approximately 2 hours 15 minutes. After that it was strangely gone and Elizabeth Hurley was licking her lips and reaching for the jam pot.

So at the moment I am facing an empty fridge, another late night shop at the Co-op and secretly hoping that Elizabeth Hurley's punishment will come upon her when she wakes up one day and finds she is size 24.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

A World Picnic

We pack Elizabeth Hurley into the car with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger and drive off to Big Park. Because today, thanks to the parks department, there's a World Picnic. That sounds promising. With a World Picnic I can show Elizabeth Hurley that we are not quite the backwater she probably thinks we are, and I can tick multicultural education at the same time.

Of course it's not just an excuse to show off our world status here in Smalltown. Oh no. There's some proper learning involved too. For a start I have no idea what Bhangra is. The flyer that I picked up from the library last week promises Bollywood dancing, African choir, Celtic, Folk, bellydancing and Bhangra. Bhangra is beyond me. I fondly think one of the children might be inspired to ask about music around the world, and Bangra in particular, so off I go to Wikipedia to do some research. Now if Shark asks I can impress everyone by talking Wiki about Bally Sagoo and DJ Stormz.

When we get there and shove Elizabeth Hurley into the field with the kids it's clear that the World bit of the World Picnic is a bit overstated. The local Gospel singers have bussed in extra support and seem to taking up quite a bit of stage time. Then there's some cute kids doing the Bollywood dancing, and something else which could be Bhangra. I'm not sure and wonder if there are sound files on Wikipedia.

Actually the Picnic bit of the World Picnic is a bit of an overstatement too. Grit has packed a disappointing picnic of six bananas and some oat biscuits. And there's no hippy stall selling gumbo, which was what I was relying on.

Anyway, we're not disappointed because we bump into the Hat and Guitarman, whom we haven't seen for ages, so Grit and Dig spend a lot of time chatting and not doing much listening to what's possibly Bhangra, or in eating bananas or oat biscuits. Elizabeth Hurley gets bored and goes off to play with the children by rolling down hills. That's an excellent start in my book since now I don't have to do it. Then Elizabeth Hurley starts to complain about going dizzy. This fatigue is apparently cured only by scoffing hot-dogs and guzzling Coke.

And so we spend the afternoon, chatting, rolling down hills and guzzling Coke against the sound of the local gospel choir. All in all, the World Picnic lives up to its promises, in a local sort of way. But we're not complaining. After all, it's a parks department event, and free. And we'll say that the attendance will grow in years to come.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

More teeth

This is what I have to say to Shark today. Stop going on about how the tooth fairy is rubbish.

Remember that the tooth fairy forgets what she is doing sometimes and in these troubled times needs to sit down and have a cup of tea. Remember that there is a new au pair in the house who needs feeding, an exploding Tiger, a daddy Dig who has appeared in the middle of bathtime from the middle of Germany, and a mummy Grit who has her head buried in a book about Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, all of which she hopes will help in handling an exploding Tiger at any time of the day or night.

Please also remember that in this household teeth are falling out left, right, and centre just now, and there is a limit to how many pound coins a tooth fairy can keep in her purse when she has to keep popping down the Co-op to buy extra bread because Elizabeth Hurley is turning into a bit of a gannet and has already chomped her way through two loaves and a bucket of fruit this morning.

Given these constraints Shark, I think the tooth rate at one pound per tooth was set a little too high. The tooth fairy may shortly be putting in a proclamation to go out across the land that because Sharks grow lots of teeth and have them fall out all the time, the rate has gone down to one penny a tooth.

But first please help me to conduct a forensic search of the back garden in the area where Tiger says she last remembers wobbling her wobbly tooth. Either that, or check the toilet, because Tiger says she might have swallowed it.