Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Cadbury World

We're doing home ed today. This involves a train trip to Cadbury World chocolate factory to meet an organised group of home educators, some of whom look like they know what they're doing and probably do it properly too. instead of mucking about like mummy Grit desperate to get in some maths somewhere, and asking things like 'How many hairs do unicorns have?' before Shark, Squirrel and Tiger all run off to play.

Actually, I don't want to go to Cadbury World, being more posh than that and determined to lose weight from around my British Museum* by tomorrow, but Dig is insistent. Two days ago he starts off with the long-face routine, whining 'Why can't we go to Cadbury World?'

At this point I don't even know there is a home ed trip organised to Cadbury World. Unlike Dig, Grit has not seen the email telling everybody there's a trip to Cadbury World. But Dig has. And Dig says it is very educational knowing about chocolate. In fact he says this several times over the next few hours in about two hundred different ways, most of them in the whining voice that Squirrel uses, until I eventually give in and go and book five places.

And so today can find us hurtling across the shire by car, bound for a train station. Dig says he doesn't want to sit in a traffic jam in Birmingham and is prepared to have me pay the ridiculous cost of five tickets to Brum and back to spare him the anguish. At 70 mph we make it to the station with seven minutes spare. Just enough time to buy the tickets and consider the cost of a portable defibrillator for Dig who has once more got himself into such a state that a portable defibrillator will seem like a bargain. Anyway, he needn't have got so wound up because inevitably the seven minutes ticks on to 37 as the Virgin train is late.

Once aboard, I notice that everyone shuffles about to give us chance to sit together. This is mostly a common experience for us. I reckon that one glance at Shark, Squirrel, Tiger, miserable Grit and a red-faced Dig clutching his chest is enough for Mr and Ms Going-to-a-Meeting to size up what's in store for them, and clear off sharpish. Indeed, the man who gives up his seat to me even suggests he's 'getting off in a minute'. This seems impossible given the fact that the next stop is 45 minutes off, but he may be about to throw himself out of a window. Who can tell.

When we arrive at Cadbury World and meet the rest of the home ed group, I am pleased to say that the Grit and Dig family is not late. In fact we are slightly early, and there is much gloating all round.

Then we go in. Oh dear. Oh dear. Why didn't someone warn me? Cadbury staff start handing out chocolate bars hand over fist. Mummy kill-joy shouts 'Don't eat it now! Save it for later! Give it here, I'll put it in my handbag!' This is, of course, lost on Dig, who's consumed two bars by the time we're ushered past Montezuma in the waxwork display.

And the chocolate never stops. We get a bar for walking along a corridor, a packet of buttons for looking interested, and a bucket of the stuff just for standing upright. By the end of the afternoon, mummy Grit has had enough of Cadbury to last a lifetime and starts shouting about vegetable fat, fair trade Divine, Green and Blacks and Lindt's 80%. The children are no better. Since some irresponsible person has been feeding them chocolate all afternoon they're just at the point to start swearing, staggering and swinging punches at the staff. We have to lead them off to the playground to get some of the sugar out their system before they take on the bouncer who patrols the kiddie area, chucking out the Business Studies GCSE students.

Finally, Cadbury closes to us and we're pointed at the direction of the train station where we have to wend our two-hour journey back home. Grit declares it all very educational in terms of our Explorers project, and for understanding trade patterns around the world. Squirrel says she likes Buttons the best, Tiger demands to know why there weren't any Stars, Shark says she's fed up with eating chocolate now and Dig says he feels sick. And Grit's got two bars of Caramel stashed in her handbag for a rainy day.

* Since the incident with Grit's bum at the British Museum, that delightful body part is now known in family circles as 'the British Museum'. This is quite acceptable on the grounds that the British Museum is filled with wonderful exotica. In considering anything else in there, we may have to draw a discreet veil.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


What with the shiny new bathroom I realise there is no longer any place for my Bad Old Ways. The shiny white tiles, sparkling silver taps and polished black floor have won me over. I am making resolutions.
  • I will buy proper nice face cream which comes in a little pot and I will stop using the vaseline.
  • I will stop using Factor 20 sunscreen as night cream. I have been too mean to buy night cream. Well I'm going to buy night cream now, and I want that in a cute little pot too.
  • I will use the Eve Lom cleanser. I wheedled this out of a freecycler in March, probably by claiming it was my last joy in life thanks to an impending hideous disease. Anyway I stopped using it because it is too nice. By the by, not using nice products is a pointless practice I've developed simply to avoid the disappointment of the pot being empty when I cannot afford to replace it. What really happens is that after several years of not using something I throw it out thinking, 'I should have used that'.
  • I will look at my toenails and consider them on health and safety grounds, even though it is not summer.
  • I will read the side of the Veet tube I bought about three years ago. It will scare me witless with images of peeling skin and I won't use it. But I feel that reading it is a step in the right direction.
  • I will use body lotions. Clarins would be lovely if only I could afford it. Did you note that, Dig? I say Clarins would be lovely. Clarins, Clarins, Clarins. Moisture-Rich Body Lotion would be especially nice. I think you can get it in town Dig. By the way, is it nearly Christmas?
  • The children are banned from playing in the bathroom. I will make a special sign. No Playing in the Bathroom.
  • There's no point making a resolution about washing hair. I gave that up in 1989 for good reason and I'm not going back.
  • I will throw out the grey face flannels. OK then, because I am mean, I will use them as floorcloths. And I will try not to forget.
  • I will buy talcum powder. Scratch that. Apparently it travels up your bits and anyway it will make a mess in my beautiful new bathroom.
In pursuit of all the above and more I have told Dig that he'd better look sharp because one day I will leap up and go to the gym. And I have made an appointment with a Personal Shopping Advisor in John Lewis on Thursday. It's her job to do something about the baggy jumpers.

There. And it's not even January.

Monday, 29 October 2007

New bathroom

Tra la la! We have a bright, shiny new bathroom! And trouble free! No noise, no fuss, no broken bits of wall, no men wandering about the house with sad expressions and shopping lists for B&Q, no-one saying at all 'Where's that widget? I put it here five years ago and LOOK. Now it's GONE. I'd finish the bathroom today if it wasn't for PEOPLE who come along and MOVE THINGS.'

No. None of the above. These bathroom men have been proper professional bathroom men and just got on with it. I'm wondering now if they'd like to have a crack at the leaking shower downstairs, the front of the house where the rain comes in, the windows, the office ceiling, the kitchen floor, and the front room. I'd add mending the stair rope where the fixings have come away from the wall and we've propped them back in, but I won't because I get to see the expression on someone's face when, unknowing about this small hazard, they gently hold onto the stair rope only for it to rip clean out the wall.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

I must not leave the room

I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave the toom while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutey.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave thre room while I am cooking chutmey
I mustnot leave the room while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutny.
I must not leave the room whil I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leve the room while I am cooking chutney.
I msut not leave the room while I am cooking chutney.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutey.
I must not leave the room while I am cooking chutney.

And setting fire to the chopping board isn't such a smart idea either.

Saturday, 27 October 2007


Off we go to the community orchard again, scrumping apples. This time Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are all with me. This is extra handy when planning to make super large jars of chutney with ginger and red onions, which is Tiger's new recipe.

Squirrel's easy to get up trees thanks to the weekly ballet, gym and trampoline, and she's off up into the branches with just a bit of help from a well-placed hand. She's a bit harder to get down, first because she won't come down, and second because she has to throw herself at me and I have to catch her. Since she's not got the ballet thing thoroughly worked out yet and I'm not Rudolf Nureyev, the catching bit is a little awkward. Actually, it feels like someone just hurled a four stone kid at me from a great height and I continuously worry about how an ambulance is going to get into the community orchard when the paths are so narrow.

Shark is more of a problem both ways. She's heavier and has a more substantial rear end. This she has to position on my shoulder so she can scrabble with her legs up the tree bark while holding onto the branch above. Once up, she's more determined than any of us to get the ones just out of reach, even when it's pointed out that I've got her in the wrong tree and the apples we're after are in the tree next door. No matter. She's not coming down. I furnish her with a long stick to wave about and she's busy for half an hour.

Tiger is lazy, like me, and shuffles around the ground, picking up fallen apples, and occasionally shouting threats to the apples things like 'Come on down. We know you're up there'.

After a productive hour of so of our various techniques we're all making our way steadily back to the car with two bags each when disaster strikes. An old man is taking his dog for a walk and he's taking it through the orchard. Worse, it's not on a lead.

Within seconds Tiger's dropped her apples and disappeared up a tree, as has Squirrel. Shark is frozen to the spot. I stand in front of Shark and pick up a fallen bit of apple branch and point it menacingly in the direction of the dog, whispering to Shark, 'Don't move.' Anyone would think the pooch has an AK-47 Assualt rifle in its paw. Well if it has, it must be looking for cats, because it doesn't even bother to acknowledge us, and leaves me feeling foolish while the old man glances sideways at me, suspiciously, like I might be about to rob him of his pension or kill his dog.

Once the danger's over Squirrel launches herself at me again and Tiger jumps elegantly down, like this is something she can do all along, but just keeps quiet about. Shark has a grumble about being the one left to pick up the apples.

But I tell her that every cloud has a silver lining. The sum total of two heavyweight girls pushing each other out of the way up an apple tree is twelve more apples for the chutney.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Spooks come early

It's the Hallowe'en walk with the parks department. We know it's not exactly Hallowe'en, and at start time it's barely dark, but hey ho, early and light is how we like to do things in the shires.

Now Grit is not expecting too much. We've booked the early walk (with mild peril) on account of Tiger saying she's scared of the dark. And Grit would like to say she's too snooty to go mucking about in woods after dark, prefering to learn instead about the traditions of Samhain. But it's not true. I love spooky stuff and horror movies, and possibly am snooty only in prefering Nosferatu and Night of the Demon to Saw 4.

But first up, I admit completely that I was totally wrong about the Hallowe'en walk (with mild peril) being a few fluffy animals strung about some trees. The staff at the parks department are obviously out to enjoy themselves.

When we arrive at the meeting point in the woods, we see one of the parks staff, Brenda, dressed up like Winnie the witch, leaning against the snack wagon parked in readiness for the first walk, eating chips. Then there's Sandra who's got a white mask on, Terry who's dressed like a ghoul, and a bloke I've never seen before, and is probably someone's husband, dressed like the homicidal maniac from Hitcher.

When we get started on the walk, it's just falling dark and Tiger whispers that she wants to go home. This is on account of the collie dog that the homicidal maniac has brought with him. The dog's called Shep and is spending a pleasant time scratching his ears and licking his bum while the homicidal maniac introduces the walk through the wood. I persuade Tiger to stay for the walk and lie that we can go back anytime. Ahead I can see the parks staff have gone bonkers with some spray-on cobwebs and dangly spiders looped all around the footpath and I'm not missing this for anything.

And it's fab. The footpath takes us on a winding walk, and at every turn there's a surprise waiting for us. The parks department have co-opted a local A-level theatre studies group who have dressed up as wooden men, witches, ghouls, statues and ghosts. We hear stories, get chased by a witch, follow skeletons and skulls and spooky lanterns and only the statue fluffs her lines about the fearful prickly creature with the bright eyes who forages through the woods at night, shrieking and crying, like hedgehogs are wont to do.

And Tiger's verdict, after it's all over and she's had some chips, was that it was brilliant good fun, and she's glad that she was brave.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Hello hello hello

Grit gets a letter from the police. They're complaining about the state of the car. Not the fact that the wheels have no tread on them, mind. No, not that. About the state of the interior. Apparently, with the stuff that's routinely left inside my vehicle, I might attract car burglers.

For example, Grit thinks, Burglar Bill might see the old coat that belongs to Shark which has paint down one sleeve. Then he'll think 'Aha! That's a tenner down the Dog and Bone for me tonight!' Or the local dodger might eye-spy the broken wicker cassette box, out of which spills the Once Upon a Time audio cassettes that cost ten pence at Hitchin Scouts. Or perhaps Jungle Jingles with Bill Oddie catches his eye, and he'll have those broken cassettes down the Sunday car boot quicker than you can say farkin ell. Tell you what, when we're down there, we'll pay the bloke a fiver to get them back.

So what else will we find down the car boot sale? I'll do an inventory now to assist the police. There are three car seats, covered in a variety of stains. These are distinguishable by the fact that there are no covers on the arm rests because Shark, Squirrel and Tiger ripped them off some time ago and used them as weapons on the AI(M). They were confiscated shortly afterwards and taken down the tip just outside Hexham.

Or there's brochures from National Trust, English Heritage, and sundry tourist sites up and down the country. Most of these we've no intention of visiting, we just like collecting the brochures. Four copies of each brochure, usually. We justify theft on this scale by saying one day we might pass Tintagel Old Post Office or the Farne Islands and need to check opening times. Perhaps the local dodger will collect them up from the footwell, glove compartment and out from behind the flap that hangs down on a broken bracket to screen mummy Grit's scowling face from the autumn sunshine.

While he's at it, Burglar Bill might make away with the emergency bottle of Dettol. And the ice skating gloves and spare knickers we carry about just in case. Ditto socks, tissues, and strange scraps of fabric that look suspiciously like they've been cut from someone's clothing.

Then, of course, there's the assortment of toys. The pencil sharpener shaped like a horse. A plastic ball, joke glasses, bits from a K'nex set, and a confiscated woolly elephant.

On the back shelf there's more to attract the eye. There's the French folders, with Elle est grande spilling out above a crayoned picture of a fat lady. I bet that's worth a few bob. As are the plastic bags in case Squirrel is sick. And the variety of sticks, conkers, leaves and confiscated natural found items that are bundled into the back of the car because otherwise we can't go home.

There. That about wraps up the inventory. Not counting, of course, the moulding banana skins, squashed fruit juice cartons, green sandwich ends and ground up biscuits that are living forever in the upholstery.

Or, of course, Burglar Bill might take one look at the above and think, 'Poor cow. She's obviously got a right load of messy arses to deal with. I'll slip a fiver through the open window to put towards the valet. No, wait a minute. Make that a tenner, and I'll just open the driver door, 'cos tell you what, it's never locked.'

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


Never say things don't happen here in Smalltown.

'On the 28th October, we are having a special lift celebration. The Community Centre finally has a lift to allow access to the upstairs floor for the less able-bodied. In celebration we are naming it the Angel Lift and inviting members of the public to see the lift in action and experience our special lift music. You can also get involved in devising a performance with the lift, or just sit back and watch. Entry is only 50p for children and £1 for adults. 11am to 2pm each day.'

Tuesday, 23 October 2007


I have to admit it. Bathroom Man is very quiet and orderly and professional about the bathroom ripping. So far there has been no screaming, no yelling, no strange and prolonged silences after a house-shaking thump, crash, bang, or tearing sound, and so far no one's had to pop off for a couple of hours to B&Q where they have a special sale of He-Man power tools.

It's quite a contrast to the last bit on work done around here, that's for sure. Several years ago, before babies started crawling all over the house through every entrance and exit, me and Dig did some dramatic reorganisation of our living accommodation. We bought the cellar from the flat next door to convert it to an underground bedroom. With the help of some local builders, we next smashed through the walls and ceiling of the former bedroom to make a lovely open space with a wooden chapel roof. Then we set about the kitchen, rearranging the walls. Well, those were the days. And they were a million miles away from the quiet professionalism of Bathroom Man.

In those days there was a lot of shouting of 'Offer it up' and 'Bring it down' and 'It's your fault. You broke it'. Then there'd be stuff all over every surface, plaster everywhere and tools piled six foot deep, most of them which required bits that were lost, stuck on so tight they wouldn't come off, or broken, which meant another trip down B&Q. After six weeks of living on chips, the Indian take-away and the Chinese take-away in rotation, we were no further forward on the wiring or the floor, were up to our eyeballs in house poo and just had to drive to Wales to pick up the sink.

We must have been mad.

So it's no small relief that Bathroom Man is organised, efficient, and quiet. In fact I think I'll forget about the bathroom now and let it all happen around me while I go make a cup of tea.

Monday, 22 October 2007


Some men are destroying the bathroom. I'm not absolutely certain that I knew about this, but Dig says he warned me, and don't forget there'll be no toilet from now until Thursday.

The last I consciously remember about this was when Bathroom Man came round in July to quote for ripping out two bathrooms, one after the other, and then nothing happened. For a long time.

Because nothing happened, I remember Dig ringing up Bathroom Man about twenty times and visiting the showroom at least three times. On the last visit he must have been particularly struck by a young lady polishing her nails, because he keeps telling me about her. Apparently Dig had to stride about the showroom in full rhetorical voice, pausing only to strike dramatic poses with his hand on his heart, his eyes to the shower fittings, and a pained expression on his face, while Young Lady Nails replied, 'Yeah ... Yeah ... He's not in today ... Yeah ... Yeah ... I'll tell him you called ... Yeah.'

Then more nothing happened.

Until last week when Dig went to Poland and told me over the phone that some men might come and rip out the bathroom while he's gone. This bit of infomation I ignored, deciding that it happens when it happens.

Well, apparently, it's happening today.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Big Bro

And you thought Grit was scatter-brained.

Big Bro comes to see us today. He tells us about his last weekend, when he was invited to a 40th wedding anniversary dinner party in someone's house. That's someone he's never met before, by the way. But they've made a lot of effort making a lovely five-course dinner party for invited guests and their partners to celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary. 40 years! Isn't that special? Britney Spears can't even manage 40 hours, so 40 years is going some.

Anyway, Big Bro is driven there by partner Val. He has a glass of white wine, then a glass of red, because food is a while coming. And then someone brings round a glass of champagne before the eating officially starts.


Bubbles go to Big Bro's brain. He excuses himself to go to the loo. Which he does. Then thinks, I need a spot of fresh air in the garden, and off he pops outside. It's a very fine night apparently, and when you are in the countryside in the middle of Suffolk without any streetlights, then you can see the stars clearly. Except when there is a tree in the way. Big Bro walks around until he has a lovely uninterrupted view of the stars. Without trees. Or houses. Or cars. Or any distinguishing feature that Big Bro can recall. At all. Then Big Bro realises something terrible. He is lost.

Now Big Bro is aged 54 and should not be lost in the middle of Suffolk, without his coat, his phone, his house keys or car keys. But he is. He does the sensible thing, and starts walking across crop fields until he comes to a road, where he sees a signpost to villages he's never heard of before, and sets out towards one of them.

After an hour he arrives at a pub, staggers in looking like Piano Man and says 'I'm lost'. The landlord asks where he'd like to get to. Big Bro, being honest, says 'I don't know', not having visited these people before, not knowing their second name, and only able to say that the lovely dinner party guests are probably on their third course by now, wondering where their guest's gone in the middle of nowhere and whether there is a time tunnel in the toilet and if so, should they get it investigated.

Big Bro, fortunately, has a bank card in his pocket, so with an obliging cash-back landlord has another few drinks to consider his options. He eventually settles on a £40 taxi ride to break in to his own house somewhere near Bury St Edmunds and receive a big ticking off the next day from Val.

Now surely, Little Sis Grit would never do that. Which just goes to prove that Big Bro leads an even more chaotic life than me.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

More about leggings

I take Tiger to buy leggings, which I am told are not leggings, they are woolly tights. Well, I say to Tiger, I do not care if they are leggings, woolly tights or weasel's warmers, I need 15 pairs of them if I am not to be doing the laundry every night.

As we walk off to M&S, I force Tiger to do some maths. She can easily work out that 15 pairs is five pairs each. But I am sure there is spacial geometry involved in the location of all five pairs: one pair draped over the radiator from yesterday's wash; one pair in the laundry; one pair stinking behind the sofa where I will uncover them in a few days time; one washed and dried pair in the washed and dried basket, and one pair in everyone's bedroom, ready to be worn.

Of course, I remind Tiger as she considers the geometry, if we're going to do some work on unit cost, remember I have to shell out for a minimum of 16 pairs because leggings come in packs of two or four. And don't forget the added mathematical complications to do with colour.

For example, Tiger will wear only expensive pink leggings which come in packs of four. But one in each pack will be cream coloured. These she won't wear on account of her legs looking bandaged. So she will need two packs of four leggings to give her six pink leggings. Then Shark will wear only blue leggings. She will need three packs, but if they are on special offer I get the second pack half price so we'll take eight leggings and share her excess with Squirrel, who will wear blue but prefers stripes.

As it is, all my preparatory work on Venn diagrams is subverted. M&S don't have any leggings in the right size and colour except in black. And if there's one colour everyone's not wearing, it's black. So in goes the order for 16 pairs of leggings in various colours, arriving at the store next Wednesday.

And we're off back home, contemplating the four pairs of red leggings left over from last year, all of which have holes in them. Maybe now we'll just count the laundry costs and the days until Wednesday.

Friday, 19 October 2007

To do list

I suppose this blog might as well do something useful. Here's the first 10 things on my To do list.

1. Pay the electricity bill. We have electricity bills everywhere. They're all on different accounts. Don't ask me why. This bill is for three lightbulbs. One is outside, one is in the entrance hall, one is on the landing. It comes to £52. £52 for three energy saving lightbulbs? Does that sound right?

2. Pay the milk man. We have milk delivered in case I die. If I die, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have nothing to eat. So I've added cheese, eggs, bread, fruit juice and biscuits to the order. I cancelled the potatoes because I don't want Shark trying to boil potatoes and then blowing up the house because she can't handle the gas hob properly.

3. Pay the newspapers. After a £50 debt I start to feel guilty that I may be responsible for the close of a small business and the destitution of the Pooni family. Mr Pooni once telephoned Dig to ask him to settle the newspaper account which stood at £74. Unfortunately Dig was in Turkmenistan at the time and was unable to get to the shop.

4. Return overdue library books and pay fine. At least my fine only stands at £2.95. Not like Kris, who stood behind me in the library fine queue and paid £15.80 for three detective novels and a medieval thriller. Cheaper to buy them from the old folks bookshop across the road, Kris.

5. Pay Visa bill. Thankfully the £6,000 debt no longer exists on this account, just £11.98. This is what Squirrel scammed out of me for the Felicity Wishes magazine so she could dress up a cloth doll with little dresses probably made by exploited children locked up in a factory somewhere in a Special Economic Zone.

6. Return the telephone call to parks department lady. I bet this is about tickets for the Hallowe'en walk. Why I have booked a Hallowe'en walk I do not know. Tiger is scared of the dark. Tiger is also scared of dogs, cats, small animals, insects, spiders, fireworks, masks, loud noises and large models of dinosaurs. She denies she is scared of men with hats but I have my suspicions. Anyway, as a result of Tiger's phobia list I have booked the non-scary afternoon Hallowe'en walk for toddlers. I expect the parks department will stick a few fluffy lions around the park again and we will all go Ooo.

7. Write a termination of contract letter to Orange. We got new mobile phones about six months ago and Dig's been putting this off. He says he does not know who to address the letter to or where to post it. I will take over.

8. Make an appointment for an eye test. I cannot see out of these glasses. They are scratched and bound up with sellotape. Something must be done. Urgently.

9. Call the gardener. Correction, first find the telephone number, then call the gardener and arrange a date with him to come and sort out the gravelly patch at the bottom of the garden. No-one goes down there anymore because we cannot get past the brambles.

10. Find my cheque book which I last saw over there. And while I'm at it, find the overdue Tin Tin audio cassette that should have gone back to the library yesterday. Then find the book that tells me how to enter new addresses into the mobile phone, and the sellotape. Find the electricity bill that I last saw on the hall table. Find the slip of paper that the milk man puts under the milk bottle, whereupon the ring of milky liquid inexplicably leaking from a sealed milk bottle causes the print to run and makes it illegible. Find the time to do activities 1 to 10, instead of wasting it mucking about on the blog making lists.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Cauliflower Tagine

Grit is having a 'sick of eating pasta from a packet' day and goes in search of a lovely vegan recipe to cook for the lovely Tiger, the adorable Shark and the sweet Squirrel.

I admit this mood is rather odd. I am either still basking in the glow of Tiger's good behaviour yesterday (or at least the absence of smashing up the National Gallery), or I am come over all hormonal. Either way, Today I am motherhood. I have a deep need to feed my growing children the nutritious food I know is out there, wanting just a flowery pinny and a trip to Tesco to bring about.

In my search for perfect food I find the most excellent blog. It is and I promise to go back to it everyday. Alright then, once a week, or when I have slipped back into bad, bad ways of opening a packet of dried pasta.

Anyway, once inspired, I am dragging Tiger down to Tesco with a shopping list, then putting on my flowery pinny and cooking Cauliflower Tagine, and Spinach and Fennel Salad with Pomegranate Seeds.

Admittedly the cooking doesn't start too well because Tiger doesn't want to go to Tesco, and says she hates cauliflower. I say you didn't hate it last week when I cooked NanJo's cauliflower and broccoli thingy with the pasta tubes. Anyway, I ignore all that 'I hate celery / lentils / peas' malarky. We'd never eat anything but dried pasta and tomato sauce if I took any notice, so cauliflower it is, and if you really don't like it, then don't eat it, but I bet you will, because has wonderful pictures of cauliflowers. I might try eating those now I've dribbled over them long enough.

So off I go to Tesco with Shark, and we set about making Cauliflower Tagine when we get back.

We don't add the turnip, because I forget it on the shopping list. We don't add the dinosaur kale either, because we don't know what it is. And I don't like kale. Two apricots doesn't sound very much, so we add a lot more, and a lot more dates too. Then Shark persuades me to throw in some peaches. I think that shows promise for a budding chef, so in goes the entire tin. We miss out the tamarind, not because we can't get any, but because at that stage I become fatigued over the thought of fine mesh and think there's only so much of my life I want to give over to Cauliflower Tagine. Finally, we interpret some of the spices a bit freely and use some substitution where forced to by the contents of the spice rack, some of which says Best Before July 2002. That prompts Squirrel on a clear out, thereby giving excellent educational practice in months of the year and, in fact, years.

An hour later and voila! Cauliflower Tagine! I think it looks very good and colourful and am very impressed with myself in a motherly sort of way.

Well, I can see that time's getting on a bit now and soon it will be suppertime, so next up is Spinach and Fennel Salad with Pomegranate Seeds. This sounds wonderful and I have even bought the pomegranate.

Unfortunately, Grit's motherly hormones are wearing off a bit now, what with the time and a fight breaking out over Blutina and Furryhorn, so I knock out a quick tomato sauce as back up and call everyone to the table to eat.

Now I suppose if you've read this far I have to give the verdict. Shark liked it and said it was very good, especially with peaches. Squirrel said she was not too sure about it, but liked it with some tomato sauce. Tiger said she did not like cauliflower, has never liked cauliflower, will never like cauliflower again, in fact hates cauliflower and why am I forcing her to eat cauliflower when I know she doesn't like cauliflower and never has.

And I enjoyed it thoroughly. Thanks and apologies to

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

National Gallery

Of course the trip to the National Gallery, without Dig but with Shark, Tiger and Squirrel, could all have been a disaster.

For example, Tiger could have come downstairs for breakfast in a foul temper. She could have had a big squealy fit because the rice-pops in her cereal bowl weren't in the right alignment after pouring on the milk. Then she could have brought down her spoon in amongst it all, hard, spraying rice pops over the table, shouting 'I don't care! I hate everybody! I don't want to go to the stinky National Gallery! You don't want me to go! And I never wanted to go anyway!

She could have followed that up with a big squeal and a temper tantrum which got her banned from the kitchen and everyone else either in tears, hiding behind the sofa, or probably in my case, both.

She might have then refused to get on her leggings or boots and refused to take a coat and, if persuaded, she might have grumpily marched down the front path, shouting how much she hated everybody before giving the gate a swift kick.

If I'd have got her to the train station she could have made every commuter's life a misery all the way into London. Then on the underground I could be grinding my teeth in anger and despair while Tiger greets everyone with a snarl, alternately punching her sisters, both of whom start weeping.

At the National Gallery she could have refused to join in the workshop, shouted, laid down on the floor, screamed, burst into tears, smashed up a Constable and been forcibly removed by the security staff before the entire family is carted down the cop shop where we are played CCTV footage of a trail of Tiger destruction across London, then I am charged and banged up in the cells while the children are forcibly removed by social services and placed in the care of Killer Smith and his Mad abusing wife, at which point Dig divorces me for assisting in the destruction of the family.

Well thank goodness that didn't happen. Thank goodness the day passed swimmingly. Thank goodness Tiger was utterly engaged by Constable and Stubbs. Thank goodness Tiger behaved herself so well she earned a family lunch at the local balti house on Sunday, which was part of the bribery package offered to her this morning after she brought down her spoon in amongst her breakfast, spraying rice pops over the table because they were in the wrong alignment after she'd poured on the milk, shouting 'I don't care! I hate everybody! I don't want to go to the stinky National Gallery! You don't want me to go! And I never wanted to go anyway!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


We have a French lesson today. And it's our turn to set up the tables. The lesson starts at 11.45 so I plan to leave the house at 11. That way we have time to get stuck behind the slow moving tractor and still arrive in time to set up the tables and arrange some chairs.

At 9.30 I tell everyone that we are going to French today and it's our turn to set up the tables, so stop mucking about with unicorns and get your leggings on.

At 9.45 I say have got your leggings on yet? It is our turn to put out the tables today and if we do not, then Madame Marthe will complain because she has a bad back and anyway she is aged 58 and shouldn't have to set the tables out.

At 9.55 I say Shark, put Blutina down and put on your leggings. Squirrel, put Whitehorn down and put on your leggings. Tiger, put Crystal down and put on your leggings.

At 10.10 I hand some blue leggings to Shark who says she is not wearing them because they are not the nice blue ones and these have a hole in the gusset that she does not like. I say I could sew that up, and Shark said I promised to do that last time. I then say the hole is too big. Wear knickers and do not lie about on the floor when you have a squeal and do not climb up any slides the wrong way.

At 10.15 I hand some pink leggings to Tiger who says she's not wearing them because they are the leggings that always fall down. I say we've only just bought them. Tiger says they are rubbish and she will only wear the ones from M&S. I look at the label on the rejected pink legs sprawling over the floor and say I'll jolly well take them back to John Lewis. These leggings are clearly never going to stay up. After one wash the bum bit is a funny bucket shape. Then I consider they are so huge I might try wearing them myself if I can stretch the legs a bit.

At 10.20 I hand some red leggings to Squirrel who says she will put them on in a minute because Blutina is meeting Crystal and they have to discuss Whitehorn's party. I say put the leggings on now because we are going to French and it's our turn to set up the tables.

At 10.30 I am to be found grovelling about in the laundry looking for the other pair of pink leggings that Tiger says she will wear so long as they are clean.

At 10.40 I am waving about a pair of pink leggings in the yard that I have made vaguely damp with a wet flannel. Shark tells me Blutina would like to fly like that and I say do not copy me. Put Blutina down and put on your leggings now because we are going to French and it's our turn to set up the tables.

At 10.50 I say we are leaving in 10 minutes. If you do not put on your leggings everybody I will become cross. I hold Squirrel's leggings out for her like a fishing net in front of an eel in the hope that somehow she will fall into them and they will magically rise up around her bum without her being aware. Squirrel tells me to stop treating her like a baby and she can do it herself. She adds that she would do it herself but I never give her chance.

At 10.55 I say Shark if you do not put on your leggings I will confiscate Blutina. Shark says that's not fair because she is still waiting for me to get the nice blue leggings. I say you are old enough to get your own leggings. Now look on the radiator because I am sure I saw them there yesterday.

At 11.00 I say Tiger would you like to wear socks? Socks will go very beautifully with your outfit. Tiger says she wants to wear pink leggings and now I am stopping her wearing pink leggings. She adds for good measure that I always stop her from wearing leggings because I do not want her to wear leggings and I want her to be cold. I ignore her.

At 11.10 I say we are going to French now and it's our turn to set up the tables and we are late and Madame Marthe will be very upset with me because she is aged 58 and has a bad back. I say I am going to sit in the car and count to 20 and put the key in the ignition and confiscate all the unicorns in the entire world and cut off their horns if everyone does not hurry up and put on their leggings and get in the car.

At 11.15 I am standing at the front door holding Blutina by the hoof. Shark is putting on leggings quickly in case I turn nasty and trap Blutina's head in the door. Tiger is growling, but putting on socks. Tiger shouts at me that I have stopped her from wearing leggings and she has wanted to wear leggings since she has got up this morning and why am I stopping her now? Squirrel is sitting in the car with her leggings on. I bet £50 she is trawling the hole in one side with her fingers to make it extra big.

At 11.20 We have 20 minutes to get to French and set the tables up. It is a 30 minute drive with a delay behind the tractor. Shark is wearing the nice blue leggings. Squirrel is wearing red leggings with a big hole in and Tiger is scowling and wearing socks but clutching a pair of pink leggings which remind me vaguely of a strangled naked chicken. I think I won't go for pink leggings myself.

When we get to French we are late. And the tables are already set up. Madame Marthe reminds me that she has a bad back. I tell her that it's taken nearly two hours to exit the house, but on the plus side, this time we are all wearing shoes.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Feeling vague

As I am feeling vague today I'm posting a picture of a back alleyway in Smalltown. This might help me focus my mind on the broken toilet which is now constantly running water through the cistern. I think someone may have stolen the ballcock.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Empty without argument

Dig's off to the airport today, bound for Poland. There's no albatross available to take him, so we drive him there.

Unusually, when it's time to depart, everyone's in a calm temper so there's no need to make pointless threats about dropping off irritating people at the roundabout where they'll have to sit and wait until we pick them up later. I stick on an audio tape of Tintin which keeps everyone quiet. Then, since the journey goes without hindrance, I say when we've dropped daddy off we'll stop in the playground close by and look overhead to watch the planes fly by, wondering what's wrong with videoconferencing again before we drive back home without him.

When we get home we're bound for the front room where we'll have a long discussion about whether to watch the Lion King for the 134th time or whether it's Land Before Time. I think secretly everyone thinks they should have grown out of that. But it keeps getting put on and watched like we might hold a cuddly blankie or eat comfort food custard.

So all in all it's a relatively peaceful and quiet day in the Grit household. Perhaps we're all a bit subdued with Dig going away. And, as if by sympathy, the downstairs toilet flush stops working and the potato scooper goes missing.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Missed day

I miss things today. Here's some things I miss.
  • I miss taking Tiger, Shark and Squirrel to an event with the parks department. I could kick myself for this. And I do, for a good ten minutes on my left ankle, shouting 'Take that! It's what you asked for and you deserve it!' I think I might be a bit unhinged during that process but I feel better afterwards, so who cares.
  • I have two hours free today and what do I do? The washing up. Therefore I miss an opportunity to go to the opticians and get new glasses. I have lost two pairs of glasses in the last month and am now reliant on the free pair. I managed to wangle the free pair out of Vision Express two years ago by having a breakdown in the shop, whereupon they gave me a pair of glasses to get rid of me. Anyway they're my last pair. They're scratched, so if I look through the right lens it's very foggy. Also the arm has broken on the right-hand side so I have bound it with sellotape, Jack Duckworth style.
  • I also miss the opportunity afforded by free time to attack my head with a bottle of colouring fluid. This is getting urgent.
  • And while I'm on the subject of missed opportunities, I'll add that today I missed going to Hastings to see the battle reenactment on Senlac Hill. Actually, I miss this every year because we live miles from Hastings and I would have to organise a stop over. This remains an annual ambition and fits into my home-ed Travelodge fantasy. I stayed for a week near Hastings two years ago with the kids and it was jolly good fun. We were in a freezing caravan in the middle of the field. Every time I turned the heating on, the lights went off. This was a bit inconvenient when the field frosted. We missed the battle reenactment too because we visited in February and the battle is in October.
  • Since the house is full of noise and argument I miss people today who do not scream but are quiet and comforting and say 'It'll all come out in the wash'. I don't know what that means but that's what my mum used to say.
Looking back, I suppose that what I've missed today wasn't that important in the scale of things. And if it was, it'll probably come out in the wash.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Things I won't miss

Tra la la! We are Elizabeth Hurley free! What a lovely Sunday morning feeling on a Friday! For the first time in weeks I don't feel obliged to rise early to get the milk out, which Hurley reminds me about if I do not do. Sometimes for a good fifteen minutes. She claims breakfast is very important and if she doesn't get a pint of milk by 8am she may pass out. I have tried suggesting the corner shop opens at 6am, but strangely, at this point, her English fails her.

Come to think of it, there are several things now that I will not miss.

Elizabeth Hurley's dreadful washing up. This was so awful that I routinely crept back into the kitchen after she'd done any washing up and stick it in the dishwasher. I discovered why all items came and left the washing up bowl looking untouched. Hurley does not use hot water because it hurts her hands. And that applies to the washing up liquid too.

Hurley's reminders that more home-made jam is required. These reminders have been given in the same way as reminders about milk or bread or anything else. The empty jam pot / milk bottle / packaging is lifted up and wordlessly waved at me.

I will not miss either the fact that Hurley, with supreme laziness, never put anything away. From things she washed up ('I do not know where zey go') to personal items like make up and books ('Where eez my mak-up? But I left it ici on zee table in zee kitchen next to zee cereal').

Neither will I miss the way Hurley interpreted five hours work each day to mean disappear to her bedroom after breakfast to reappear for lunch and then sit on the sofa and read a book. And when asked to help with the housework, reply 'my book it is very good.'

In fact, when Hurley did do anything, it was so horribly wrong that sometimes it was preferable when she didn't do it at all. Not only did she block the vacuum cleaner so we had to dismantle it to clear it, she routinely blocked the conditioner tray in the washing machine with powder so that the final rinse was with a rather hefty helping of Daz. Fortunately on this one, she never did any laundry for us, just for herself.

Neither will I miss the tartes. Now I know this sounds odd, and for the first week it was quite a novelty. But there's only so much fat and sugar I can stuff down my throat without feeling like a foie gras goose. Last week we reversed the torture and the children made steamed puddings and custard which Hurley dutifully ate. After her third helping of golden syrup pudding at 2000 calories a slab, Dig suggested our parting gift to her might be a pair of English thighs.

And if that were all, it would be quite good. But no. There was the constant demand on Dig to fetch and carry, the constant demand on Grit for shopping essentials, the way the entire household seemed to have to reorganise to orientate around her, and the effortless way her very presence would send Tiger into orbit.

If there is a finally, which I suspect there isn't if I thought about it, there's Hurley's complete lack of sensitivity and awareness to her surroundings while she lived with us. In particular Grit's birthday, when she told Dig off for allowing the kids into the flat to blow up balloons at breakfast.

Phew. That was therapy. I hope she never comes back to wash up the saucepan of left-over rice she's placed in the sink from her lonesome dinner last night, or for the one sock and the pyjama top I've just thrown into the bin.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Endings and beginnings

And if yesterday didn't end bad enough, this morning finds Tiger in a foul temper, trolling about the bathroom door scaring Shark, who won't leave the toilet. This, quite frankly, is an inconvenience we could all do without. We're due to pick up Dig from the foyer of the posh hotel at 10 o'clock. The plan was to visit the Pitt Rivers Museum en famille for the morning and still be back in time to wave off Elizabeth Hurley on her evening flight, having smartly released ourselves from the trial of having to be nice to her in her last few hours.

We do manage to set off from the hotel about 10.15, having emptied the room and having remembered to give back the keys instead of walking off with them like Dig does. So despite the difficult start we're more or less on track. But then in the car on the way to pick up Dig, Tiger goes bonkers and starts slapping Shark.

I've had enough. I am Misery Grit. Pitt Rivers can wait a few years longer. We pick up Dig and drive straight home. I drop off the family and head up to the Health Centre where I make an appointment to get us some help with Tiger from the Child Psychologist. I hope she's experienced in triplets.

And while that trauma's beginning, another one's ending. Elizabeth Hurley leaves the house. And my goodness does she drive Dig mad in her final hours. For the first time ever I hear him shout.

As far as taking her plus six bulging overweight bags to the airport for this evening, strangely neither me nor Dig are available to take her, and on this we had our story straight. You'll have a cultural experience on the bus! we chant. Basically we've lied. Neither of us want to drive her down to the airport where we are sure to be scammed into paying £300 excess to EasyJet to get her woolly jumpers home to Nice. And if anyone asks more about the other lies we told to get Elizabeth Hurley out the house and home before December, I'm saying Allie put me up to them.

Well Hurley at the last minute says she no longer wants the bus seat that Dig's gone to the trouble of booking. She says she's found a man with a dog. He's picking her up at the station and driving her to the airport so he can interview her for an au pair place in January. We ask no further questions on that but Hurley's final words are that she likes dogs better than children.

And after the 24 hours that Tiger's put me through, as I wave Elizabeth Hurley good riddance, it's probably the first time I've found myself in agreement.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

A trip to Oxford

Here's a rare picture of Grit, so treasure it. Squirrel, Tiger and Shark are asleep in the sofa bed, double bed and pull-out. Grit's in the bathroom as the only place left to drink a beer with the light on. And the Travelodge Hotel on the Woodstock Road in Oxford is where Grit, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are staying tonight.

Dig, meanwhile, is staying in the posh hotel in Oxford, eating posh food, drinking posh wine, and being feted by posh people who dress nice, don't scream that they hate the world and everybody in it, and who use a knife and fork properly and not as weapons with which to attack their dining partners.

Staying in the Woodstock Road Travelodge while Dig does important things down the road all seemed like a good idea when I embarked on it. You see it's part of my long-held fantasy of travelling about trouble-free in home ed happiness, searching out art galleries, museums, science parks and gardens all over England. In this fantasy, me, Squirrel, Tiger and Shark stay overnight cheaply and simply in a Travelodge family room, see the wondrous sights, and come home again. A simple vision for a simple life. The Woodstock Road Travelodge is our first experiment.

I cannot say that so far it has gone particularly well. Despite explaining to Elizabeth Hurley at least forty times yesterday that the Grit and Dig family is out tonight, she has affected total surprise at our departure this morning and asked what should she do for dinner.

On the journey here, Tiger has been complaining and angry about having to sit in the car, be near a sister, look out of the window, listen to a story, be taken to a Roman villa site and, she says, being forced to look at a horse when it's not fair because Shark saw it first and Shark does everything first so why should she because there is no point.

Then it gets worse. Once we drop Dig off we attempt to visit a local wildlife park. I get to the pay booth and Tiger's angry complaints have descended into a screaming fit, so I turn away with apologies and pull into a lay-by so that Tiger can jump out of the car and kick her car seat to bits.

Once Tiger's calmed down enough we get back to the Travelodge and I drop the keys down the toilet. I have to scoop them out with my hand because the coat hangers are locked onto the wardrobe rail. At least this makes the big fight about the toy unicorns, which get banned from the room and imprisoned in the car, less of a torture than it otherwise might have appeared.

Then tonight Mummy Grit offers Squirrel, Shark and Tiger a drive into Oxford to get some chips. For the first ten minutes in the car, all goes well. Then somewhere approaching Carfax, Tiger's rage returns with a vengeance and she threatens to smash the car windows in while kicking me as I'm driving, thus forcing Mummy Grit to do an emergency stop, stick all the hazards on, and burst into tears.

When I've composed myself enough to move away from the traffic lights where I've stalled to a hazardous halt, I drive on to find a chippie. I take Squirrel and Shark inside with me, and suffer the suspicious questioning of fryer Rocky who is probably alarmed by the sight of a dishevelled, disoriented woman towing two anxious-looking children about at 8 o'clock at night while a third child appears to be locked in the car, screaming. In truth I have left Tiger in the car either to smash her way out or calm down. Fortunately, she chooses the latter and, along with her sisters, is equipped with a comforting bag of hot chips for the journey back to the room.

Unfortunately, because I'm disoriented, I have no idea where I am. This is pretty good going as I lived in Oxford for a year, but at the moment total memory loss seems to be par for the course: yesterday I lost a piece of the oven. Anyway, I reason we are somewhere in the centre of Oxford and will get out. We do get out. But not before I have driven almost a full circuit round the Oxford ring road looking for the Woodstock Road Travelodge.

And there you have it. I'm sitting in the bathroom, drinking beer while the kids are all asleep, and decide to photograph the moment. And if you are wondering where Grit is sitting since there are not usually chairs in bathrooms in your average Travelodge hotel, you are right.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Single minded

I've been suffering. It's all thanks to Richard II being deposed. And, as the days have passed by, I've become increasingly desperate to get hold of Henry IV. Preferably a well-researched, well-written account, with all the politics thrown in. Now the library's been disappointing to say the least. Nothing on Henry IV, excepting some Shakespeare plays and an unread paperback on the Wars of the Roses. Clearly, I reason, there's been a run on Henry IV.

Well, things are getting desperate today, because I've forgotten my book and I have nothing to read. I've left Terry Jones' Medieval Lives behind on the kitchen table. Now it's been entertaining enough, providing a nitty gritty poke-about in other people's personal bits. With all its scandals of unconsummated marriages, underpants and virgins, it might be like reading The Sun newspaper, only 700 years out of date - but it's not Henry IV, and that's what I'm hankering for.

So this morning I drive the kids into the local town for a lesson, and plan in my child-free hour to pop to the local high street. Here I'll park the car, and quickly run through the history shelves in Cancer Research, Oxfam, British Red Cross and the Community Shop, all while the kids are saying Bonjour and Comment allez vous. Then when we go to the playground afterwards, they can be Normans again while I'm the Anglo-Saxon in the hut grunting leave me alone because I'm just reading this very interesting history book I found in the charity shop. And it's on Henry IV.

Only there's nowhere to park outside Cancer Research. Double yellows are everywhere. There's a multi-storey round the block at £6 but I have 45 minutes. So I drive round. And round. And round. Looking. By then I've only 30 minutes before I have to pick the kids up. Fired up with my geography A level, with the outskirts of a town being the zone of decay or proximal development or something like it where there are sure to be specialist charity shops and history bookshops, I drive like the clappers to the outskirts of town.

But I don't see any charity book shops. I see a charity furniture shop. But I don't want a sofa. I need a book on Henry IV. I must have it. I need it now. And then I remember that supermarkets sell books. They'll have a book on Henry IV. I have 10 minutes. I drive to Sainsbury's which is on the way back to the lesson. I leap out and run into the store. They sell DVDs. They sell clothes. They sell double espresso makers. Do they sell books on Henry IV? No.

Now I am a woman possessed. Of course! I know where I'll find a book on Henry IV! The hall behind the church where the kids are chanting Comment allez vous! The church will have an honesty bookshelf! They'll have a book on Henry IV! Why didn't I think of this before? I could have saved myself the trauma all along. With two minutes to go before pick-up time, the tyres are squealing as I round the final roundabout. I do an emergency stop outside the church, push the kids out the way and run to the foyer where they keep the adverts on churchy things and where my search is bound to come to an end.

Only there isn't an honesty bookshelf. There never has been. There's some leaflets on how to pray and some leaflets on the local hospice and some leaflets on being a good Christian. I want to cry. I don't want to be a good Christian. I want a book on Henry IV.

And as the kids are climbing into the car and my hour of child-free time is gone, I reflect how narrow-minded and foolish I've been. I've been trapped into a line of thinking; of course I'm not going to find a book on Henry IV in a small local town just when I want it.

No. What I need to do is dump the kids back home and glue myself to the office computer for two hours spending £175 on an Amazon wish list before presenting it to Dig as a Christmas must-have, or else. There. Much better.

Monday, 8 October 2007

What if ... part two

They're not letting go of this albatross thing. Which just goes to show how effective the kiddie RSPB has been on one evening every month. Perhaps I should hand over teaching the time to them, and let's see how they do it.

Anyway, the albatross makes its appearance at lunch again.

'What if we get an albatross, what you going to feed it on?' asks Squirrel. Evidently, she's been puzzling about the logistics.
'Squid' says Shark decidedly, with her mouth full of apple cake.
'Where am I going to get squid from?' I ask. 'We live miles from the sea. Are you expecting me to get up every morning and drive to the coast to pick up squid to feed to the albatross?'
'No!' shouts Tiger gleefully. 'You can put squid in the freezer!'
'What if the albatross refuses to carry computers, daddy, or any baggage?' I ask. Judging by the worried look on Shark's face I can spy they haven't thought of that. So I become deeply concerned. 'Did anyone think to ask the albatross? What if we get it here and then it says it's not helping?' Now I'm starting the What if's.
'We could send it back home' says Shark.
'But we've removed it from its natural habitat' I point out. I'm starting to believe we actually have an albatross now. 'If we take a creature from the wild it might not be so easy to give it back. Sometimes they get rejected by their group. Or-' I say with a troubled look, 'it might get dependent on us and forget how to catch food for itself.'
'You could turn it loose' offers Shark.
'What? Turn it loose?' I'm incredulous. 'I can't turn it loose! It wouldn't know where to go. What if it starts hanging about the garages, sitting in doorways, drinking and spraying graffiti like the local teenagers. What do you do then?'

The idea of having the responsibility for a delinquent albatross hanging round the back lane makes everyone laugh.

'I don't want to see albatrosses hanging about spraying graffiti' says Shark. 'Let's drive daddy to the airport.'

At last.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

What if... part one

I don't know about anybody else, but this drives me mad. We call it the 'What if' game.

I am discussing with Shark, Squirrel and Tiger the best way to get Dig to the airport again next Sunday. We need to ensure that:
  1. Dig does not have a heart attack on the M1;
  2. Dig does not have a heart attack on the M25;
  3. Dig does not have a heart attack on the M4, or indeed on any other blocked up / closed down / slow-moving motorway in the vicinity of any take-off and landing strip throughout the UK and preferably elsewhere;
  4. in effect, can we think of a suitable schedule and transport that allows Dig to arrive in any circumstances where we can wave and say 'have a nice trip' and not 'call an ambulance'.
Shark suggests the train. I say this is normally a good idea. But this time there might be a problem with the train because daddy Dig might have to set off very early to sit on the bus thanks to the engineering works.

Tiger suggests a taxi. I say daddy Dig sometimes does use a taxi and this is a good idea too. But as it is a Sunday the roads might be easier, and we could be his taxi, then we get to visit our playground close by and be involved a bit more in daddy Dig's life instead of saying 'see you in a few days then' while standing at the doorstep.

Squirrel suggests a bike. I say that is a good idea and normally I would approve of that but this time he has his luggage and where would he put it?

Then the What if's start.

'What if he straps it to the bike?' says Squirrel.
'He carries a computer. Putting it on a bike might bump the computer and damage it. He would be unable to do his presentation with a broken computer'.
'What if he got something else to carry his computer and he goes by bike?' chirps Tiger.
'Such as?' says mummy Grit.
'An albatross' offers Shark.
'Where might we get an albatross from?' inquires mummy Grit with a big sigh while reaching for a bottle of beer. I know I must be a good home educator and allow full exploration of ideas in order to create a co-operative, sharing, non-judgmental environment and a family confident enough to share blah blah blah. I'm opening some beer.
'What if you go and get one?' says Shark.
'Would I have to go to the South Atlantic Ocean?' I ask, pouring myself a big glass.
'Yes' declares Squirrel, thumping the table in what looks like something's been decided at last.
'And what would I do when I got there?' I ask.
'You would go and get a big net and tie fish to it and then string it up in the air and then when the albatrosses came flying along they would get stuck in the net. Then you can bring one home' shouts Shark. Clearly she's worked this one out already.
'I wonder how long it would take' I muse, trying to get in a bit of practical problem-solving into albatross-land.
'Two hours' says Squirrel.
'Five months' adds Shark.
Tiger nods, like that sounds about right.
I pour another beer. We still haven't cracked the time-thing yet then. 'Well, say it takes me five months. Daddy's flight is next Sunday'.
For a moment everyone's silent. Then Shark asks, 'How are you getting to the airport?'

Saturday, 6 October 2007

What was I saying?

Grit is going through a strange phase. Perhaps it is the menopause. Perhaps my brain is leaking. Perhaps I am unbalancing while walking on eggshells round Tiger. Or perhaps I am preoccupied, counting the minutes until Elizabeth Hurley gets back on a plane on October 11th. But I am definitely Off.

I am getting very forgetful. Very forgetful indeed. For a start, I have, in the last week, or thereabouts, lost two pairs of glasses. I keep dreaming that I have left the first pair in a book, or amongst some papers. But they're not turning up. Not anywhere.

The second pair of glasses I lost last week were prescription sunglasses. I had to wear these at 11 o'clock at night to go food shopping at Tesco because I couldn't find the first pair. I have no recollection of these. One minute they were there. Then, Pfff! Gone. After fifteen minutes of searching Tesco, the only answer is to drive home squinting like Mr Magoo, hoping the police don't stop me because I am driving along the pavement again.

Glasses are not the only thing I am forgetting. Going to the bank to pay in a cheque and then realising I have not brought the cheque is routine. As is going to post a letter without the letter. Walking into rooms wondering what I've come in for. And taking back the books to the library that we bought from them last week in the sale. But this is the first time I've come home without the shopping.

How can I spend £58 on food at Tesco, then come home and put away two bags of shopping before wondering, Where is the coffee? And where are the cereals? Where is the syrup? I'm sure I bought that for Shark's recipe. And didn't I buy some bananas? Well none of the missing bags have fallen down the back of the car seats. And they're not in the boot. Not in the lobby. Nor under the car. No. That's because I've left them all at Tesco.

And if that's not bad enough, then I go and forget Squirrel. I leave her down at her ballet lesson and wonder where she is.

Next time I visit the library I'm looking out for a book on how to improve your short-term memory. That's if I remember, of course.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Elizabeth Hurley gets it wrong

Elizabeth Hurley cooks something she calls 'Four Quarters Cake'. Actually, she doesn't so much as cook it, more explode it in the oven, thanks to a linguistic failure. This is her inability to understand the difference between 'teaspoon' and 'tablespoon', despite having been given in lesson in cutlery not 24 hours before.

Adding two tablespoons of baking powder causes the Four Quarters Cake to explode shortly after baking commences, thus drenching the inside of the oven with cake.

So polite are we all, that we then say cheery things like 'Never mind!' when we'd really like to say 'Twerp'. We even try tasting some. It is disgusting and a lot of 'Urghurghurghing' goes on immediately all round.


Thursday, 4 October 2007


It's the kiddie RSPB meeting. And at three o'clock this afternoon Shark informs me that for the evening meeting everyone must take along an albatross that can fly.

Never sure about these things I ask Shark if it has to be a real albatross, perhaps with a bandage round its beak. 'No' says Shark. 'We have to make it. And we can make it of anything we like. And mummys are not to help.'

Damn. When it comes to showing off with art and design, I have always considered this My Job.

But for the next hour, Grit is banned from the schoolroom, pacing up and down the kitchen, tetchily worrying that to make albatrosses that can fly, it ought to be at least life sized and be a proper smart design based on proper paper aircraft technology. And really, they deserve to have a Chief Designer who can boss everyone about and tell everyone what to do. That's My Job, obviously.

Well two hours pass before I get to look. And quite frankly what I see is a total mess.

Tiger's albatross is a film canister previously used as a rocket at the space centre. Tsk. She's strapped paper wings and a beak to it. Shark composes hers of straw and cotton wool. It looks nothing like an albatross. It looks like a lump of cotton wool with some straws skewered through it. Then Squirrel shows me hers. And I think, Is that it? Two hours design work for this?

It is a pencil that has triangles glued onto the side. This flies if you throw it across the room with force. She looks like someone throwing a pencil across the room, and I have to say 'Well done! If I didn't know any better I'd say an albatross just flew through the house!'

Then there's a demonstration of all the rag-bag of designs that apparently didn't make the grade. Bits of pipe cleaner attached to lumps of foam; a roughly hewn lump of fabric with a deflated balloon stapled to it; a pair of scissors that get confiscated pretty sharpish; a glittery ball of wool in an egg carton. None of them fly. They are all hurled with great force. Honestly, if I'd known about this project at the beginning of the week I'd have intervened properly and been Chief Designer and made a proper paper albatross and we would have studied aerodynamics and everything. That way I could have shown off properly tonight and smugly nodded 'home educated' to everyone who gawped in wonder at our amazing design made from special aerodynamic paper.

But it is not to be. Dig takes them to the kiddie RSPB while I hide in shame at home. He is not impressed either with the collection he's carrying and says why don't you strap some wings to a house brick and chuck that in the direction of Pied Wagtail? Let's see how fast he can move when he sees that special little albatross coming at him.

And it gets worse. As they're leaving Squirrel tells me it's a competition and everyone's going to see how far their design goes. And the winner might get a cuddly albatross. As they depart I can only shake my head. They are not only going to lose, they are going to lose with ignominy. If only they had let the Chief Designer take control.

And blow me down. When they come tumbling back in at 9 o'clock tonight everyone is flushed and chattering excitedly. Apparently Tiger's albatross flew furthest. Until the very last albatross thrower, who beat her by a centimetre.

And the Chief Designer tenders her resignation.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007


Slava's Snowshow. Which hurtled me into childhood, watching the world unfold. Perhaps it's a beautiful dream, tipping on the edge of danger. Breathtaking and beautiful. Grit takes a day off to lie down and dream.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007


The stewed apples go down a treat. Not like the custard. When Mummy Grit announces it would be fun to make custard, it isn't fun at all.

I have to think carefully about this. Making custard is a chore. Making custard is, in fact, deeply boring, standing at the hob trying not to get lumps in warming yellow milk. And what is the reward for this labour? Something that tastes like warmed yellow milk with sugar in. I am not a fan.

But there again, I am not aged seven. And when Mummy Grit says it would be fun to make custard she is trying to make something that is deeply boring and horrible-tasting become exciting; to transform us all with a wonderful, sensual eating experience. It is the cooking equivalent of modern art.

For example, when I find a smelly old dishcloth in the sink I do not say 'Ugh! A revolting smell from the disease-laden stinky dishcloth crawling in the sink!' No. I say, 'What a wonderful example of the creativity inherent in all natural processes, and perfectly set against white bleached ceramic! The work of nature indeed finds a place within the sterile man-made environment of twenty-first century Britain. This is affordable Brit-Art, fitting for the way we live now.'

Well it's the same with custard. Except that if you are seven, making custard is exciting. It truly is. The beautiful crumbly pale yellowness of the powder that, like snow, stands in peaks, forms crevices against a spoon, can be hollowed, shaped, sculptured and rolls like silk between the fingertips. And then the beautiful, sudden deepening of colour as the milk is poured and mixed. The crunch of sugar, the strangeness of the thickening, the delightful sounds of the plip plop drip, as the last of the custard leaves the pan and falls like a slow, silken yellow waterfall into the old china sauce boat, waiting on the table. Delicious.

So we have a big fight over who gets to lift the custard out of the tin. Who gets to add the sugar, the milk, passed from hand to hand; who gets to mix, to stir, to pour.

And now we have a custard rota. Tomorrow Tiger. Then Squirrel. Then Shark And so on, each and every day we'll be making and eating custard. Until everyone declares they're fed up with eating custard. After all, what is it anyway, but a load of warmed yellow milk with sugar in.

Monday, 1 October 2007


Mummy Grit is smart. Since we go down to the orchard, scrumping all the apples, Mummy Grit has been making chutney. That's when she's not chucking the vinegar about and burning the pans. Well, since we have been scrumping regularly now and have amassed bagloads of apples, I have decided that we are not using up the apples fast enough.

Mummy Grit has a wonderful little book she probably borrowed from some unfortunate and never gave back, or nicked from an honesty bookshelf at the local church, and that's a book on apple recipes.

So first up today is Celeriac and Apple Soup.

  1. Celeriac, which we haven't got. There's not time to go to Tesco, so change celeriac for potatoes. We've a big bag of potatoes that Dig bought from the farm weeks ago. Actually, I'm getting a bit fed up of eating potatoes.
  2. Five apples. Five? Five? Is that all? Go on, twist my arm. Put in a dozen.
  3. Chicken stock. Change that for vegetable. I don't want to murder a chicken just to use up a few apples.
  4. Cream. That sounds OK. I keep cream for the ice cream maker. I apologise to the cows, obviously.
  5. Celery leaves and apple to garnish. Forget about the celery leaves. Just cut up a few more apples.
  6. Butter, salt and pepper. Salt is bad. Salt is BAD. BAD Salt.
Then Grit gets started ...cut up apples, melt butter, stew apples, add stock, throw in potatoes. Boil everything to an unrecognisable mush and serve.

Strange. Tastes like apple sauce with some mashed potato thrown in. But we are not deterred. Here's another recipe Grit finds. This sounds promising.

Heaven and Earth
  1. 2lb potatoes. Good. I can use up some potatoes for this one.
  2. 2lb apples. Apples!
  3. 8oz bacon. Obviously I can't use that. I can't be a pig murderer now to use up a few apples. We could use chick peas instead.
  4. Salt. Salt is bad. Salt is BAD. BAD Salt.
Let's get started... boil potatoes, mash. Stew apples. Put apples and potatoes together. Serve with bacon. Or chick peas. Strange. Tastes like apple sauce with mashed potato and some chick peas on the side.

Phew! Thank goodness it's time for pudding. Let's do stewed apples. They always go down a treat with some custard. And if we haven't got any custard we've got a big bag of potatoes to get through.