Friday, 30 November 2007

Busy Friday

Thursday didn't go too well then.

The police say it is no excuse, so bring the licence when you get it and no pleading. And cut out the grovelling.

Then I get to the crashed car centre at 3.30 and Bloke says, 'They took it Wednesday. It's in Hertford. Are you going that way?'

This morning then, I bundle Tiger in the back of Big Bro's car and drive to Hertford where I am escorted by another bloke to the back end of a field where I find the crumpled Berlingo minus its tax disc but with its treasures.

Tiger helps load up our bin bags with stones from Romney marsh, sticks from everywhere, crayons, broken audio tapes, a stuffed elephant, two unicorns, a bottle of Dettol, three French folders, four odd gloves, two pairs of knickers, a home-made butterfly net, five pairs of socks, one wellington boot, a picture of an albatross, factor 40 sunscreen, a 3-year old bottle of washing up liquid, the bungs from the blow-up airbed, coins from Latvia, books on assorted subjects from bird watching to fossils, umpteen brochures for tourist sites across the UK, a bag of orchard apples, two sheets of silver card...

After 30 minutes Bloke is staring at his watch and looking like his soul has left his body.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Busy Thursday

Big Bro has lent us a car. This is useful. Today's list:

1. Track down where the smashed car is now. Drive there, pick up the child seats and the treasures. Incidentally, when I telephone this morning to make an appointment for that, this is the exchange:

Grit: Hello, I'm trying to locate a smashed Citroen Berlingo that I think you might have.
Bloke: We got hundreds, love.
Grit: The assessor called me yesterday and told me it was with you. It's a red Berlingo -
Bloke: What's the reg?
Grit: (fumbling with papers) Um, I think it's got an E in it.
Bloke: Has it got anything else?
Grit: Well it's got three child seats in the rear.
Bloke: (pause) Oh. That one. Bring some bin bags.

2. Keep out of the way while Dig continues negotiating with the garage over another Berlingo which we can impose rules over, like 'No eating in the car'. That rule should last a good 30 seconds.

3. Go to the police station with documents.

4. Before that, apply online for new driving licence so I can plead that although strictly I am not presenting all the documents, I am intending to. Honestly.

5. Get Squirrel, Shark and Tiger to their gym and trampoline lessons. And back home again.

I think this might be a secret test by fate of my timetabling and organisational skills.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Pause for reflection

I have had enough of looking for the driving licence. Actually I have found one torn bit of it. So I will go sheepish to the cop shop on Thursday to present my documents following the car accident (which was most certainly not my fault even with the naughty tyres) and I will present:

one MOT test certificate (in tact)
one insurance certificate (in date)
one bit of driving licence (torn piece, size of right thumb).

When I go to prison at least I will have the fond memories of a super-doopah meal last night with the lovely Ellie and Mister W.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger were superbly behaved and never interrupted once, having been bribed with Beauty and the Beast on a video in their room and a bucket of fruit. The food was passable, considering the circumstances and the severe interruption to the menu planning to look for the driving licence.

It is all just as well, because now the oven has broken down.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Perhaps it's on the floor?

Bugger this. I'm off to cook dinner for Ellie and Mister W.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Nope. Not there.

Been round the office three times now.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Found it yet?

Not on my desk, either.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Looking for the driving licence

Nope. Not on the dining table.

Friday, 23 November 2007

It could have been worse

  • I could, for example, have had a tot of brandy in my morning coffee in preparation for another day surviving triplets in fight mode, domestic chaos, and the white cat who sits on the doorstep and shouts at passers-by in cat language. Of course Grit would never ever resort to brandy at 9am. Not a tot. That's for sure.
  • There might have been a full-blown triplet fight going in the rear. With scissors. Shark would be screaming, Squirrel would be thumping and kicking, and Tiger would have unstrapped herself, shouting 'Stop the car! I'm getting out!'
  • The car might have had no MOT. Thank goodness we remembered.
  • And all four tyres might have been bald.
  • We might have been travelling more than 28 mph. The consequences of that I hardly dare think of. Bo, who I once worked with, was travelling home when she crashed into a van. The shopping that was on the back seat disgorged and a pot of strawberry yogurt flew forward and splattered open on the windscreen. She thought it was her own blood and promptly passed out.
  • I could have been on the phone while simultaneously tuning the radio just at the moment of impact. To get out of that one I might have told the officer, 'well to get Radio 4 I did put the cheese sandwich down'.
  • The pet leopard might have been real.
There. It could have been much worse. I feel better now.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Oh dear

I'd like to post something very positive today about the lovely psychologist lady who said very nice things to Tiger and mummy Grit and was very reassuring and kind and let Tiger go on and on and on while mummy Grit tried to get a word in edgeways.

But I won't. Because it's already swept from my mind. Unfortunately, while driving away from the meeting with the psychologist, Grit had a road traffic accident, removed the front of the car, was interviewed under caution in a police riot van along with Tiger and her pet leopard, and then got breathalysed. Leaving just the court appearance, the search for all documentation and, of course, no car.

At least I can look at the bright side. The owner of the other car is probably in tears because her wrecked vehicle is hopefully on its way to the crusher after being seized by the police because she had no insurance.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Recipe plan no 3

Things are looking grim on the menu planning. This is today's.

Tinned peaches and old orchard apples with a crumble topping without much sugar and butter but with custard

This is easy to prepare. I wonder about serving it up properly, like at an emperor's banquet. It sounds much more interesting than, 'I'm a bit busy today what with the psychologist's appointment tomorrow'.

D: Is there a first course today?
Sq: Is there any food? (Said while contemplating an empty plate and being told, 'It's your first course. Eat up.')
Sh: Mummy?
T: UGH UGH UGH! (Mummy Grit suggests Tiger tastes it. Tiger says she has tasted it and it tastes revolting, so there.)
G: No comment.

We have a lot of potatoes. Let's eat those. Oh look here's the last egg. I'll stir the egg in and make a sort of 'potatoes with a stirred egg' meal.

D: It looks very nice. I like potatoes.
Sq: Is there anything else? (No, Squirrel.)
Sh: I like it. (Can I give you a kiss, Shark?)
T: UGH UGH UGH! I can see egg! I hate egg! You're forcing me to eat egg and you know I don't like egg!
G: There's grass outside.

Tinned peaches and old orchard apples with a crumble topping without much sugar and butter but with custard
This gives Squirrel something to do to stop her going back into the schoolroom and causing mayhem by breaking into the intensive play that's been going on for the last hour between Shark and Tiger.

D: Can I have the custard? Yes, just the custard.
Sq: Yum.
Sh: Yum.
T: Yum.
G: Must get off and do some shopping.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Recipe plan no 2

I have been usurped. Shark has taken over the recipe books and today's experimental menu is all hers:

Tangy avocado
Filo pastry baskets with mushroom filling
Bubble and squeak
Spiced apricot yogurt

Tangy avocado
It is only me and Shark who like avocado in this house, so I agree to this immediately and offer to buy a packet of six. The avocado is filled with fried red onion and Worcester sauce. It would contain Worcester sauce, but Tesco wouldn't sell me any. The man said it wasn't on file so they couldn't sell it me. He then confiscated it.

D: This looks interesting.
Sq: What is it? (said breathlessly with a look of pure horror while gazing at the avocado. Has an enormous green caterpillar erupted from beneath the surface?)
Sh: I like it.
T: UGH UGH UGH! (Mummy Grit suggests Tiger tastes it. Tiger says she has tasted it. She must have some sort of supernatural trick here because she never lifts her cutlery or appears to sniff, chew or nibble.)
G: Basically it's avocado with some fried onion on top. And it's not tangy at all, thanks to Tesco.

Filo pastry baskets with mushroom filling
We make the filo baskets ahead. They look great but when cold, set like concrete, so no-one knows how to drive a knife and fork through them. I think there is a stake and mallet in the garage, and promise Shark we will get them out if the filo baskets win our tasting competition.

D: It looks very nice. (Would you like a manual drill or an electric drill, Dig?)
Sq: Oh no. (Said while covering her eyes.) Is there anything else? (Oh dear. I think we've been here before.)
Sh: I like it. (Shark, you chose them.)
T: UGH UGH UGH! (Said while stabbing her filo basket with a knife.)
G: I think they need to be served warm. What do you think, Shark? (Said as I remove a shard of filo pastry from my cheek, where it seems to have skewered the skin.)

Bubble and squeak.
Easy peasy.

D: This is nice.
Sq: Yum.
Sh: Yum.
T: Yum.
G: (Actually, I don't like bubble and squeak. Better keep quiet.)

Spiced apricot yogurt
This was easy. Mix together Greek yogurt, soft dried apricots, pistachios, cinnamon, lots of orange zest. Mummy Grit pours a large Cointreau over hers.

D: This is unusual.
Sq: UGH. Has it got cream in it? I hate cream. I only like squirty cream. What is it? Has it got cream in it? I hate cream. (Said ad infinitum. Or at least until Mummy Grit removes Squirrel's helping and pours Cointreau over it.)
Sh: Yum.
T: Yum.
G: Double yum. This would go nicely with a brandy on the side.

Tomorrow, experimental recipe set number three.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Recipe plan

Aha! A recipe book!

Here are the results of the first experimental menu.* Dig, Squirrel, Shark and Tiger have kindly provided the comments.

Watercress and stilton soup
Chestnut, walnut and red wine loaf
Pears poached in honey and ginger with mascarpone

ercress and stilton soup
This recipe was compromised because I did not put any stilton in. I thought the children might go UGH if I put stilton in. So I left it out. I know this is a dangerous line of thinking, because the next thought is, 'I'll put in some pasta instead'. I bravely resisted this, so no pasta. And no stilton either.

D: It needs the stilton. Where is the stilton?
Sq: What is it? (said breathlessly with a look of pure horror while gazing into her soup bowl. Has an enormous green toad erupted from beneath the surface?)
Sh: I like it.
T: UGH UGH UGH! (Mummy Grit suggests Tiger tastes it. Tiger says she has tasted it. Clearly without lifting her soup spoon or moving her lips.)
G: Basically it is leek and potato soup with watercress. And it needs the stilton.

Chestnut, walnut and red wine loaf
This recipe is vegan. It isn't meant to be. It has eggs and cheese in it. I got distracted half way through so only the top half of the ingredients went in, and the eggs and cheese were in the second half. Unfortunately I also drank the red wine by accident so couldn't put that in either.

D: It looks very nice. (It does not. It looks like an Ibstock brick.)
Sq: Oh no. (Said while covering her eyes.) Is there anything else? (How I wish there was, Squirrel.)
Sh: I like it. (Have you been at the Tixylix again, Shark?)
T: UGH UGH UGH! (Said while stabbing the slice on her plate with a pink straw.)
G: You need to try lots of different foods. Try it. (I want to pewk. If I were to eat a meteorite, I think it might have the same density, texture, appearance and taste as a chestnut, walnut and red wine loaf without the red wine. This one is definitely out.)

Pears poached in honey and ginger with mascarpone
This recipe was easy.

D: Is it sweet?
Sq: I like the honey.
Sh: Yum.
T: Yum.
G: Yum. This one's on the possible list.

Tomorrow, experimental recipe set number two.

* I know what you vegans are thinking. I am killing cows, destroying the planet and should do better. All I can say is that I bear the guilt. I promise to go to next and whip myself senseless with a spatula.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Big thought

This is big. This is Really BIG. Grit has a deep and profound thought.

Ellie and Mister W are coming to dinner and Ellie and Mister W will not want to eat Tesco value pasta with tomato sauce.

Now this calls for some serious thinking. Grit has been cooking Tesco value pasta and tomato sauce for 234 years. She has forgotten how to cook anything else.

This calls for some very deep and serious thinking.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Acting like grown ups

Tra la la! Ellie and Mister W are coming to dinner! Tra la la! Tum te hum! Do de dum!

Grit is all happy now because next week Ellie and Mister W are coming to dinner and they are not aged six, or even seven! No! They are proper grown up humans! They do not throw themselves to the floor and howl in Tesco! They do not hang on the door frames refusing to move! They do not swing on my front room curtain and then, as the curtain comes crashing down about their heads, say 'She did it!' No, no, no no no. None of these.

And what's more, we won't have to send Ellie and Mister W to their rooms for kicking the chairs, slamming the doors or waving scissors dangerously. And we won't have to tell Ellie and Mister W off for sitting on their chairs in a silly way, or for making irritating noises, or for throwing all the cushions off the sofa, and smuggling the cuddly leopard under the kitchen table at eating time when everyone knows he is Not Allowed Now because he causes fights. No! Ellie and Mister W are lovely grown up people who really are very grown up and adult and quite possibly may be among the few adult people I will speak to for more than five minutes this year without being interrupted.

Because, and this is the best of it all, Ellie and Mister W are leaving their offspring at home! With a babysitter! And we are bundling Squirrel, Tiger and Shark upstairs and nailing planks across their bedroom doors so that they cannot get out!

Well, OK, that last bit's just wishful thinking right now, but it's hoped that eight hours of listening pleasure with the audio book series of Watership Down will have the same effect, while Ellie and Mister W and Grit and Dig are all downstairs doing what grown ups do best. In Grit's case this might be drinking heavily and falling asleep in front of the fire. But let's hope it's sharing dinner, being civilised, and talking.

Talking, probably, about the children. But heigh ho, this is a start.

Friday, 16 November 2007


There is a lot of fighting. And I use a lot of negotiating strategies. At the moment the negotiating groundrules I'm trying to apply broadly are: Don't push people into defensive positions (She did it!); Don't ascribe motives (She did it because she wants to upset me!); Don't use absolutes (She did it! She always wants to upset me!).

If I get so far as to remind my miniature actors about these rules, then I try and say the positive, too: Be patient and listen so everyone can say how they feel and the impact that someone else's behaviour can have. Offer suggestions for how to proceed. Suggest options for what to do next. Try and find common ground, so that everyone gets what they want. Suggest a new way of doing something or new code of conduct that everyone can agree with. If shouting starts, then stop talking and come back to it later when everyone is calm.

Is it working? A bit. One danger is that we spend all our day in the negotiating. Take today. We're going to the library. What books shall we take back? What shall we renew? What books shall we borrow? Which library card should we use? Who's carrying the books? What bag shall we take? ...and we never actually get to the library to take back the overdue books.

Sometimes I think why don't I provoke a big shout and scream, then I can lay the law down, leave everyone in tears behind me, and go to the library alone. And there I can put my feet up behind the natural history, and have a quiet read.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Cardboard boxes

Well I hope Dig's learned his lesson. Never give cardboard boxes to children. Because this is what happens.

1. Squirrel wants a cardboard box to build a pirate ship. Dig gives her a huge cardboard box from the enormous pile that has appeared in the office (and which he denies has been filled with a new computer system). Squirrel manhandles the box through the doors and goes off to build a pirate ship with Tiger. They start to do this in the schoolroom. It involves waving scissors around dangerously and taping straws to the cardboard box. There is a fight. Tiger refuses to work with Squirrel.

2. Tiger goes to the office and asks for a cardboard box to make a nest with. Dig gives her a box. She takes it into the schoolroom and begins to wave scissors around dangerously. Squirrel, meanwhile, is howling in the front room.

3. I ask Squirrel what would stop the howling. She says her pirate ship has been taken over and she wants it back. I go to the schoolroom, extract the pirate ship and bring it to the front room. Tiger starts to howl because she wanted to put the nest on the pirate ship and now it is all Squirrel's fault. Squirrel climbs inside her pirate ship in the front room and starts to howl some more.

4. When Tiger calms down, she goes back to the office and asks Dig can she have another two boxes, that are bigger. Dig gives her two big boxes. She takes them into the schoolroom.

5. Shark has seen all the giant cardboard boxes and wants to make a house for the toy leopard. She goes into the office and asks for a cardboard box. Dig gives her a box. She takes it into the schoolroom and stuffs a leopard in it. Squirrel, still in her pirate ship that looks like a cardboard box, is sniffing quietly.

6. In the schoolroom, Tiger and Shark have a fight. I bring both of them out of the schoolroom where they are not to be dangerous with scissors. The schoolroom and front room are now filled with cardboard boxes, some with bits cut out of them, and some with straws taped to them, and one with a Squirrel sat in it. Dig seems to have emptied his office of most cardboard boxes, and is probably feeling quite pleased with himself.

7. After a while, Tiger goes back to the schoolroom to make her nest. She cuts a hole out of the side of a cardboard box. Shark then reenters the schoolroom. She sees that Tiger has cut a hole out of the box that she was using for the leopard. Shark is inconsolable. She thinks Tiger has done this on purpose. She wails, she cries, she weeps, she howls. Tiger leaves the room, taking some of the cardboard boxes with her.

8. With all children howling, cardboard boxes going to and fro, and Squirrel refusing to come out, mother opens a bottle of brandy. Dig, tired of all the demands for cardboard boxes, has strangely locked his office door. But Tiger now wants another box. Tiger is determined. Unknown to me, she takes my keys, opens the office door, goes in and asks for more boxes. Well I don't know if she is successful, because mummy Grit is having a temper tantrum, what with the howling children, cut up cardboard and nowhere to drink a glass of brandy in peace and quiet and she has started to throw some of the cardboard boxes into the yard.

9. Thirty minutes later, Dig comes in through the garden in his socks. He says Tiger unlocked the office door to come in, and then, when she left, thoughtfully locked the office door again, leaving the keys dangling in the door, so that from the inside, Dig can't put his keys in the lock to open the door. Having been locked in the office, he has to leave by his garden door and find another way into the house. In his socks. In the rain. By then, Grit has laid the law down about the boxes, finished her brandy and all is calm, excepting a few sniffles from the front room.

Now Dig, have you learned your lesson?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Ballet exam

It is the day of the ballet exam. Squirrel's exam is at 10.00, so we are all told to be there for 9.00. This is inexplicable to me, because all she needs to do is have her hair up in a bun and put on a pink skirt.

But apparently it is all much more complicated than Grit thinks. The foul Miss Tuzy is there, ordering everyone about, and making sure the whole process is the ballet equivalent of 'medicalised'. Now me and Miss Tuzy have quite a history of mutual loathing. It is difficult to know when it started. Perhaps Miss Tuzy thinks I am a cold insensitive cow, while I think she is a prissy affected airhead.

For example, I am not allowed to adjust Squirrel's pink skirt. No. That's the specialist job of Miss W, who also attends to Squirrel's socks and shoes. Being only the relative of a ballet exam candidate, I can no longer deal with socks and shoes, despite having put on socks and shoes some 5,000 times in my short child career.

And then there's the hair. Grit cannot possibly be trusted with that. The loathsome Miss Tuzy calls out to Squirrel 'Have you brought your hairclips? And your hairbrush? And your band? And your net? And your hairspray?' Squirrel looks horrified at this list. Meanwhile, Grit would like to shout some very naughty unballet words at Miss Tuzy, preferably along with a couple of sticks sharpened into spears.

Of course Squirrel is not going to answer, and of course Grit hasn't got that load of crap, so everyone just stands there for a few moments in some sort of silent face off. Miss Tuzy makes it worse by pointedly smiling a frozen wasteland of a smile at the cringing Squirrel while Grit hunts through a handbag in search of a comb.

Well that's all there is. That and the value hairclips bought at 11pm last night at the 24 hour shop down the road. For a start we never buy hairspray and I'm not effing well going to start now so prissy meringue head Miss T can squirt it about, polluting the environment for a ten minute show. Second, we couldn't find a net. Quite frankly, because I couldn't be arsed to look. Third, I have brought the wrong hairclips. Miss Tuzy shouts this out when Squirrel takes them over, then adds for public benefit 'Never mind, you can use some of mine'.

At this show of munificence, Grit would like to go over, wrestle Miss Tuzy to the ground and give her a jolly good thumping. I have to do that, and the Chinese burn and headlock, all in my imaginings. By then, Squirrel's head is getting extra ballet bun torture, probably for being the inadequate daughter of the menacing Grit in the corner.

Next, Squirrel gets her shoes re-checked, and her ribbon attached. So my little Squirrel is, by degrees, wrestled off me and turned into a ballet exam candidate, complete with tight bun, identifying ribbon and Miss Tuzy clipboard. And at five to ten, off she goes, up the steps, ready to get her left and right mixed up and to gallop right through the tinkle-tinkle bit. And I sit downstairs, fixing an upturned drawing pin on Miss Tuzy's hairdressing chair with Blu-tack.

Only in my imagination, of course.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

On reflection

I'm taking a break from the wretched ballet exam world today to go cruising round cyberspace looking for research on anger in triplets. We have a face-to-face meeting next week with the educational psychologist; this I set up after the miserable time I had with Tiger in Oxford when I thought the world might end within 24 hours if I didn't do something.

Since then, the violence of Tiger's rages has subsided, and her normal anger comes and goes, and usually one of us, but at this point, mostly Squirrel, becomes Most Hated Person. Actually, with the incidence of violence declining, I'm starting to feel like a big fat fraud and an over-fussy mummy who's high-maintenance in the anxiety department, and who should just put it all down to 'kids fighting'. Probably just like my mum did.

But anyway, that bit of self knowledge doesn't stop me cruising. And Oh Great. Am I glad to find this in my ongoing research into Tiger rages. Not.

Am J Psychiatry 120:528-532, December 1963
© 1963 American Psychiatric Association


DONALD G. LANGSLEY M.D., THOMAS P. BURTON M.D., MIRA GRISWOLD M.S.W., HANK WALZER M.S.W., , and RONALD B. SPINKA M.D.1 1 Dept. of Psychiatry, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, Colorado.

We report a case of schizophrenia in triplets [...] A genetic hypothesis by itself is felt not to account for the differences in the manifestations of the illness. Various psychogenetic hypotheses including such areas as confusion of identity, disturbances in primary object relations, social isolation, pathological communications and psychopathology of role models for identification all derive some support from the family study. The identification of one girl with mother and the other with father is felt to account for behavior differences before and during the psychosis.

Now on a scale of 1 to 10, my anxiety about Tiger's rages suddenly leaps to 11. So I'm going to get things clear in my head.

I'm sure that Squirrel, Shark and Tiger know they are different from each other, even though Shark and Squirrel are identical twins and Tiger's the fraternal. I play the 'Ask three artists' game. The point of this game (and we've played it since year dot) is that three artists will come up with three different interpretations of the same thing. If I suggest everyone draw a tree, then I encourage three different versions of the tree, and praise every different way of looking at things. We've always encouraged each child to be different too, and do different things from each other. Hence Tiger's violin lessons from age 4. I don't think we were paying for her to become the next Maxim Wengerov.

Next up, object relations. If I'm right, this means broadly getting what you want. Well Tiger has always known fairly clearly what she wants - and she's got a fairly wide set of persuasive techniques. Thumping her sisters is one strategy we're trying to be rid of.

Right, social isolation. I may explode. Monday Italian class we dropped because I couldn't fit it in the week with so many social demands, lessons, workshops, visits and outings with family and friends. Mondays is local group meet for crafts and play; Tuesday there are art and French classes; Wednesday's full group meetings; Thursday's gym and trampoline lessons, followed by drama group and RSPB meetings. Friday, we are free! Ha! We might get some work done at home! Or let's go out and meet some friends! Pah!

Pathological communication? Well, honestly I would say Tiger sounds normal to me for a seven- year old. She justifies her routines in particular ways, but partly because this gives her the security of understanding and interpreting her behaviour, rather than because of a compulsive or pathological condition. She doesn't have any repetitive or compulsive actions or behaviours. Unlike Grit who has set herself the crazy pathological requirement of keeping a bloody daily diary for a year.

And association with one or the other of us? Well there is no doubt that sometimes Dig occupies Most Favoured Parent (MFP) status, and then if he shouts, it's me who's MFP. And then if Dig spends more one-to-one time with her, guess what? Dig becomes MFP once more.

Role models? Daddy's got an international career, mother's a coke addict. (I'm joking.) Actually I would say we are both pretty bright and articulate and ambitious parents with strong ideas about life and living. And I'm the pretty one.

And some days I think we get down to explaining Tiger's rages with plain sibling rivalry and jealousy.

Perhaps I should cancel that meeting.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Did I say finished?

The news of Grit's lack of exam fever has evidently got round. Twig comes over to me at picking up time at today's rehearsal and reminds me with a serious expression that everyone likes the children to have a sense of occasion about the exam so that it makes a point of the rehearsals and the lessons.

I'd like to say well-considered, thoughtful things about how I think the process is as important as the end product and the fact that it won't matter to me whether Squirrel performs well or not in the exam, so long as she's enjoyed doing what she's done. But I don't. I don't get much chance. Twig glances at Squirrel and whispers it doesn't matter if there's a fail really, so long as Squirrel's enjoyed doing what she's done. I don't know whether to say thank you or not.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

OK, I'm finished on this one

Well I've pissed off the ballet mums big time.

Today it's rehearsal with the piano. In Squirrel's case, it's the rehearsal with that annoying piano music crashing on in the background which stops her from concentrating hard on what she's learned to do, and marching through her dance sequences at a furious pace. Dutifully, like a good ballet mummy, I've reminded her a zillion times that Twig keeps saying part of her mark comes from her interpretation of the music, and that actually when the piano does the tinkle tinkle tinkle bit that's telling you it's time to point your foot out and tap three times. But by the time we get to the the tinkle tinkle tinkle bit, Squirrel's already done that and is off galloping about as if it is the crash bang wallop bit.

We are doomed, so I have reminded myself it is not a scholarship exam for the Royal Academy, it is a primary class for seven-year olds and Squirrel enjoys it, so that's that. In fact I have reminded myself so much about this, that by the time I get to the rehearsal today I look like a woman who doesn't care whether we even turn up.

This is the last rehearsal we get to watch before the exam on Wednesday. As I sit there watching my little girl all dressed in pink with a face of concentration, trying to remember which is right and which is left, I'm sort of proud of her in a strange, motherly way. Squirrel wanted to do this exam to find out what exams were like. That was her decision, and she's stuck to it. She's actually managed to get herself out of bed every Saturday morning and off to the exam classes with never a word of complaint, reluctance or hesitation, unlike Grit. And even though her timing is crap and she's got her left and right the wrong way round again, well, it all doesn't matter, and in my eyes she's done the course, stayed with it, and passed. So I have a little glow and feel glad and feel that really it's all over. The exam bit on Wednesday feels unnecessary.

When we come down the steps from watching in the big hall, it's clear the other ballet mums haven't got to Grit's relaxed point of thinking yet. They are hand wringing over the steps and the sautes and the demi-bits and fretting about this and that. And then Mrs Pushy Ballet Mum says 'Are you worried?'

Grit shrugs her shoulders, and says, 'Well, it's not a scholarship exam for the Royal Academy, it's a primary suburban class for seven-year olds'.

Oh dear.

Saturday, 10 November 2007


Now I'm not going to go on and on about this, even though it is going to completely dominate my life for the next few days. I shall just have to turn up and try to smile. Inside I will be a seething mass of resentment at having to sit next to Mrs Pushy Ballet Mum who is fretting all the time about Lucinda's shoes, hair, demi-plies (whatever they are), and whether her socks should be pulled up or starched. And if Squirrel does not get her timing right on Hand and Arm Extension I will break her fingers.

Friday, 9 November 2007

What were we doing?

Time to remind myself what I was doing before it got all taskus interruptus.
  1. The chimney sweep is booked today for 11.30. I know what you are all thinking. We are Bad. We are burning coal and setting fire to the environment. You are right. My only explanation in this direction is that in a fit of Victorian period living in 1992 we removed the radiators from the walls in the front room and kitchen, so the coal fire is our only form of heating. However, in recognition of the fact that I do not want homeless polar bears wandering about in the street outside, we have resolved to wear more jumpers, light the fire only when it is a minus temperature, and use only one half bucket of coal each time. Phew. Now no-one bomb me.
  1. Squirrel's ballet exam. Turn up Saturday for rehearsal. Turn up Sunday for rehearsal. Turn up Monday for rehearsal. Turn up Wednesday for exam. Drink alcohol heavily on Wednesday in celebration of doing all this and putting up with that brainless piece of meringue, Miss Tuzy.
  1. Find out where we are going and what we have to do for the skiing lessons next Wednesday. We're getting these at a massively discounted price and even so they are expensive. I can only afford them this term because we are no longer doing the swimming lessons. I couldn't take the swimming anymore. I thought I was going to have a breakdown. Let's hope the skiing goes better.
  1. Find the missing TinTin cassette that is still lost. I looked in the car, and it wasn't there. Some light-fingered Squirrel has probably lifted it and stuffed it in a squirreling hole somewhere about the house, and has now forgotten where it was put. Today I shall now go through every squirreling hole I can find.
I see every item on my list is numbered 1. Typical. There is no sense of order and priority in this house. Well, first on my list today is to put that right.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


Now the trip to Lisbon is all done and dusted, it's time for the verdict.

Squirrel, Tiger and Shark concentrate mostly on the shortcomings of the Hotel Tivoli bathroom and breakfast facilities, so apologies to the Lisbon tourist board about that.

Grit likes the way that you have to climb a ladder to get to the top town. The restaurants upstairs are much more interesting than those on the ground floor, especially that one who made great efforts to please the children, had an excellent vegan and vegetarian selection and put pine nuts on my aubergine. I would name the restaurant in fact, only no-one here can remember what they were called.

Dig is not playing the Lisbon verdict game. He is a diplomat.

Detailed results from my questionnaire follow.

Q: What did you like most and least about your stay in Lisbon?

  • When you lie down in the bath you can see the plumbing under the sink. (Clearly the Hotel Tivoli plumbing arrangement is simply wrong, wrong, wrong.)
  • That man at the door tries to steal your luggage. (That's the Doorman, Shark. He takes your luggage up the hotel steps to the reception, so ladies can enter the hotel looking perfect. Next time please do not wrestle your bag back off him.)
  • The peaches were nice. (Considering you and Squirrel entered into a competition on day two to see who could eat the most peach halves and between you managed 31, I'm not surprised.)
  • They do not give us chocolate every night. (Ahem. Er, I have a confession to make about that, Squirrel.)
  • Someone takes your breakfast plates away before you have finished with them. (They are trying to prevent you eating any more peach halves.)
  • The rooms were too small. (Actually, the rooms were quite large, but Squirrel has ideas above her station in this direction, having formerly requested that her room comes equipped with a swimming pool.)
  • The toaster in the breakfast room is rubbish. (I think we'd all concur with that.)
  • My sisters get everything all the time, and it's not fair. (Tiger, I'm stopping this questionnaire right now because once again you are talking rubbish.)

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The Castle of St George

Ahhh! Castle visiting! Everyone is happy, except Shark, who says she's had enough of castles and wants to go back to see the fish. No, we say, enough fish for now. Today we are seeing castles.

I think we are castlephiles. Well I am anyway, and I don't care about anyone else. If we're in reach of a castle, we have to go, that's it. Probably, they just humour me. But Shark, Squirrel and Tiger wouldn't cooperate if they really didn't want to go, would they? No, they'd be refusing to put their knickers on at home, or making ridiculous excuses like 'I want to make a chair. It's not fair. You know I wanted to make a chair. You said I could make a chair yesterday and now you won't let me'. Either that or they'd all engineer a great big fight so that everyone gets grounded, and the moment those words are out of my mouth, 'Right! That's it! You're not going to the castle!' then everyone would shut up arguing and go back to playing, mission achieved.

They could, of course, adopt a more straightforward approach of screaming and kicking in the car, so we stop at the bus stop again and I refuse to drive any further until the police move me on. And then I say that in my confession I would have to tell the police how badly my children behave, and then I would be deemed an unfit mother and my babies would all have to go to foster homes. I think that's the pointless and incoherent argument I use regularly at bus stops. Anyway, if we did get to the castle, Tiger, Shark and Squirrel could make it feel like a walk through Hell until they got their way and we left.

So when I say today we're all going to the Castle of St George and not the fish house, there's only a bit of ritual grumbling, which makes me think they secretly like castles.

Well they certainly like the Castle of St George. Tiger sees a lizard and is ecstatic about it, pointing to a precarious set of steps. She says she and daddy have just been down there and seen it, and no one else goes that way. I tell her I can't understand why not, looking at the loose stones, wonky steps, precipitous drop and nothing to hold onto. Then Shark says she wants to explore the turrets and legs it towards some particularly dangerous looking elevated pathways that seem to be walled only to knee height. I have visions of her tripping over and start to calculate whether her fall would be broken by the tree below and how many bones she can get away with breaking before it's fatal.

When I'm not assessing the risk of fatal injuries with Shark I'm nervously watching Tiger and Squirrel chase each other between the turrets before scaring me witless by suddenly disappearing as we come upon a fifty foot drop on both sides.

By the time we have to go to pick up the luggage and catch the evening flight home, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger all say they'd like to stay another hour. I'm just glad to be back once more on the paved area of the courtyard where I can't see any opportunity to be disemboweled, impaled on a tree or smashed to pieces on the flagstones. In fact the only hazard I can see is me slipping on the smooth stones in my eagerness to get to the flat bits, or the junior Grits pushing each other into the prickly bush by the toilets in an attempt to get out of the way of the patrolling cat.

'We can't stay any longer' I say briskly. 'And anyway' I add, 'I think I might be going off castles'.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


Back with our '10 things to do in Lisbon' guide. Actually, after two minutes, we could abandon it, because we know exactly what we're doing today, guide or no guide. We're going to see the fish. There's no escape. It's the Oceanarium, otherwise Shark will explode.

Shark has been fascinated with fish since, well, forever. Not like anything else. Thomas the Tank Engine came and went. At age three, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger all loved Thomas so much there were daily squabbles about him, sometimes with weapons. Probably in practice for when boyfriend Kevin comes round in ten years time, poor sod. But unlike the future Kevin, I could make five of the cheeky little Thomas engine faces appear: Shark, Squirrel and Tiger each had one to carry about, while two more could be stuck under the sofa and it didn't matter. Well Thomas passed on, and now he's in a box with Percy and Diesel and all his chums waiting for Grit to get her act together on ebay. But while Thomas went, fish stayed.

Tiger likes fish. Squirrel says fish are fun. But for Shark, fish are essential. Shark wants to be a diver, or a marine biologist, or a chef. One who doesn't cook fish, obviously. If there's a whiff of Dig's salmon about, she complains for up to an hour about whether the fish liked the experience of being caught and eaten. It's like having your own little fish union leader, sitting in front of you with a glower and a set of demands.

So today there's no contest. With Lisbon boasting one of the world's most impressive tanks of fish, we go and see fish. Correction. Today we worship fish. Big ones, little ones, ones with funny faces and smiles, ugly ones that skulk around corners or lie flattened under the sand. And I ignore the fish, but take photographs of Shark, with her nose pressed against the glass, swimming with the Sun fish.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Staying local

I have to put the '10 things to do with kids in Lisbon' plan aside today because Dig is working. On working days, my co-worker's absent, so I keep my ambitions local.

My first problem without a co-worker is managing triplets across town. For a start, I have only two hands. Crossing roads, getting on buses, getting off trams, going down escalators or through tunnels to metro stations - indeed making sure everyone is walking in the same direction at the same time, and not engrossed in some petty squabble at the roadside about the colour green - is all hard work. Add to this I have to read a bus timetable, work out the ticketing system or extract information using bad Spanish gathered at age 14 while Squirrel is crying. Tiger's stood on her foot because Tiger saw a dog, and Shark is hanging onto my coat because of the mass hysteria that seeps through everyone whenever Tiger sees a dog. This is all a challenge anytime, and I'm not up to that everyday, particularly when I've had more to drink than is advisable last night down the pizzeria.

My second problem is that whenever Dig's busy, actually earning the money that allows us to do this thing in the first place, the kids all hate his absence. They fight, they argue, they pick fault, they scream. The minute Dig walks back in the room, they all fall asleep like angels, utterly emotionally exhausted with the trials of the day. So if someone's looking like they're about to go beserk, if we're not too far from our hotel I can march back indignantly, if indiscreetly, and I don't have to haul a screaming child on a tram, or a metro or a bus.

So today we go to see the great view into Lisbon from the top of Parco Eduardo II and come back down to play in the playground that my kids-&-Lisbon research has thrown up. It's all a short walk from the hotel. Which is just as well. Because Shark has a major scream in the playground and I have to march back with her trailing behind. I shall say no more about the scream, simply that it involved a lot of snot and a lot of watching French people. And I'm glad that today I kept it local.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Kids in Lisbon

Today we are armed with '10 things to do with kids in Lisbon' which I've ripped out from Ruk's diary somewhere in blogland. Running down the Liberdade, sliding over the tiled pavements and shouting doesn't seem to be one of them, so I tell Shark to shut up, walk, and look where she is going because Lisbon is notoriously crime ridden and she may be stolen at any moment.

OK then, probably not. I wouldn't take a chance with Shark. She's as heavy as a mule and has a kick like one too. And she didn't get her nickname for nothing with those fangs. On top of that, there's the shouting she has to do. This is basically along the lines of 'I have to walk like this, a sister is pushing me'. On balance, she's probably safe.

First thing up today is education, besides screaming in the Liberdade. At home we've been slogging away at our Explorers project, finding out all about Vasco de Gama in preparation for the big event when we can walk down into Vasco de Gama town, see his model boat, look at his maps, go up his street and eat his pizza. In fact it doesn't take us long to realise that he's the Daddy round here, so no messing with the name.

At the Maritime Museum, Squirrel dutifully copies out information on frigates, and Mummy Grit does her teaching job in front of a Vasco de Gama model boat, so now that's done, we can enjoy ourselves.

And we do. Shark says the monastery is very nice but she wouldn't want to live there. Tiger grumbles and squabbles going up and down the steps of the Belem tower. Squirrel buys herself an ice cream which immediately sparks off demands all round, and we all linger over the view of the river from the cafe, which means we miss out on the electricity museum, because it closes before we get there.

At the end of a long day we negotiate the transport system back to the hotel and eat pizza en route. Pizza is in compensation to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger for dragging them off to a small restaurant last night where Mummy Grit and Daddy Dig had a splendid meal while the juniors all collapsed in their chairs or went face down into a platter of rice and fell asleep.

And my goodness, those Lisbon pickpockets are good. Their haul today is one camera, which is pretty good going considering Dig says he would have had it shoved down his underpants for most of the day, if only we hadn't complained when he was getting it in and out.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Off we go

Bleary-eyed, this morning I took Squirrel off to her ballet exam class for 8.45. I upset the other ballet mums as usual, then it's back home for lunch and pre-flight argument about whether Tiger can take three unicorns and a leopard on board in her luggage. Squirrel has her toothpaste confiscated. Shark gets given a biscuit and told to sit on the stairs and wait and stop shouting. That's mummy Grit's job. Then Grit gets dressed up in her new black jeans and we all fly to Lisbon. In an aeroplane, obviously. We haven't got wings.

Friday, 2 November 2007

I cheated

Well I cheated there. For a while the entry about being made up with a personal fashion advisor was down for Friday November 2nd. This clearly will not do, Grit. That was November 1st. I've moved it, and this entry is down for November 2nd. So there.

When I started this blog Dig said, 'You will not post everyday'. That's enough of a challenge for Grit, so I'm determined to see it through for a year, despite what anyone says. And when I do, it'll be Yah boo sucks, Dig.

Anyway, it's not only Dig who set me off. It's actually all Michelle's fault. Her and William Tayler, footman, who started his annual diary on January 1st 1837:

As I am a wretched bad writer, many of my friends have advised me to practise more, to do which I have made many atempts but allways forgot or got tired so that it was never attended to. I am now about to write a sort of journal, to note down some of the chief things that come under my observation each day. This, I hope, will induce me to make use of my pen every day a little. My account of each subject will be very short - a sort of multo in parvo - as my book is very small and my time not very large.

And then on December 31st 1837:

I have at last finished the task which I have been heartily sick of long agoe and I think it will be a long time before I begin another of the kind. Now all the readers of this Book mite give an idea of what service is.

Well I haven't finished my year yet, so I'll just accurately record for today that mummy Grit helped the junior Grits choose some items of clothing that will not shame us when we crash into the lobby of the Hotel Tivoli tomorrow night in Lisbon.

That means I have to edit Shark's leggings because she always wears the ones that fall down about her knees. I have to prevent Tiger from taking her favourite dress which is torn along the sleeves and has a hole in the skirt. And I have to hide that dreadful shiny purple thing that Squirrel thinks makes her look like a top-class princess. It actually makes her look like a purple balloon heading off down the Bigg Market on a Saturday night (and apologies to Newcastle).

Burnet, J. (ed.) (1974) Diary of William Tayler, Footman, 1837. In Useful Toil: Autobiographies of working people from the 1820s to the 1920s. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

New, improved Grit. Part 1

It is Grit's Big Day. Today I'm going to be told by an expert how to dress, so that I don't look like a lumpen mound of wool and hedge clippings.

Let's face it Grit, I say as I stare into the mirror before I go, leg warmers went out in 1982 and we don't want them round here anymore. Ditto the string and knitted jumper that makes me look like a bag lady from a Hyde Park bench. And the old knee-length coat where the pocket linings have crumbled. Every time I reach in to retrieve a handkerchief I have to fumble about the hems. It looks like I am checking whether I've soiled myself again. That, or I may be sexually frustrated and need to feel my own knees. Either way, fumbling about my nether regions while my arms have disappeared and I am bent double in a yoga position is not a good look outside the public library when my nose is running.

I've decided that as far as clothes go, one of my problems is that everything comes from the charity shops. Every item has been pre-worn and pre-discarded, usually for a pretty good reason, which I don't find out until first wear. Now sometimes I get lucky. Take one Monsoon skirt at £3, one Boden cardy at £1 and one Per Una top at 50p from the RSPCA. But these are the exceptions. Mostly I wear junk. I wear anything loose, floppy, torn, stained and baggy. Partly because it saves me the time of tearing, soiling and spoiling any garment I own, and partly because anything baggy or binned is unlikely to cost me more than £3 an item.

Which leads to my second problem. This is a problem, like most mothers, with priorities. £17.50 for a furry pink hippopotamus from the gift shop at the safari park? It's a bargain. Shark has smiled at it in delight and clutched it to her like a conjoined twin. £2.50 for a new top in Mark One? You must be joking. I'm not paying that for a top. I can get one down the Cancer Research shop for 50p in the sale.

And this leads on. There is a deep lack of coordination about me which, I'm sorry to say, offends me. Jumbling up colours and shapes and sizes guarantees a total mess. In fact it is as off-putting as the last time we furnished Shark with some trifle and extra custard. I may as well stick a banana on my shoulder and a cherry on my head and have done with it.

And so to my next problem. Which is time. I don't have any. The time I do have I spend in blog-therapy and spew out my id. I don't have time to look at clothes, plan, shop. For three years I didn't have time to shower. Once I considered nappies because I didn't have time to pee. I'm hardly likely to spend a leisurely afternoon shopping for outfits now on my schedule. And I'm nervous about going anywhere for more than a few hours alone because by the time I get back I'll still have to do the laundry and dishwashing, mop up the spilled paint, sort out the H-bomb destruction in the front room and attend to dehydrated children at death's door because Dig will have forgotten to give them anything to drink.

But things have clearly got to change. The children can get their own drinks, the house can stay a tip and I'm going to wear a pair of trousers that fit. And this time, I mean it. By the most surprising turn of events we are all off to stay some days in Lisbon. And I am not walking through a five star hotel lobby dressed like Hyde Park Lil. Unless, of course, it's in fashion.

New, improved Grit. Part 2

Well this personal shopping malarky is fun. I get sat down in a super plush room like I might be choosing a bridal gown. Not that I ever have chosen a bridal gown, but if I had done, I imagine that this is the sort of room I'd choose it in.

The room is all red plush curtains and gold loops and thick red carpets and smelly scent. It's even got those gold curvy French-style balloon back chairs you might find in a ladies boudoir, if you ever stumbled into one. In fact it is all so deeply luxurious it has super ego written all over. I think I might have to come and live here, even if it is at the back end of a corridor behind a cardboard sales panel at John Lewis.

Here I meet my personal expert, Mrs Fashionista. Mrs Fashionista is dressed in a bright pink jacket and black trousers. Black and colour together. Can you do that? She looks like some sort of colour coded inmate. For a moment I am not sure about this process. I want to run away.

But Pink Lady Fashionista sees my doubt. Perhaps she sees me taking a step towards the door because she comes over all 'There there' and 'Has it been a long time?' and after five minutes of this treatment I want to sink into the boudoir chair and blub and call her my mum.

Pink Lady Fashionista listens to my tale about how children are all woe and hard work and about not having showered properly for seven years yet alone tried on a skirt, and she blithely suggests it'll all be made better and brighter with a new top. Then she thrusts Vogue at me and is off to track down some clothes to try on.

The first outfit is hideous and I say I might pewk if she brings it near me again. She says it's not hideous, it's my boobs which are saggy and I need a proper bra, at which point I tell her she's not my mum anymore, now go off and find something else and less of the boob talk. There's nothing wrong with this bra. It cost me £2 in a sale three years ago and I'm sure it was grey and pink when I bought it.

The second outfit makes me look like a heavyweight English pudding. Admittedly when trying on skirts I should take the socks off, but the colour - a deep dark brown - makes me look connected to the earth a bit too closely for my liking.

The third outfit starts with some black jeans. I like black. Black, black and more black. I like it, except when teenagers wear it, and then it is horrible. Black should be reserved for miserable, old ladies like me who like to think it is smart when really it is just black.

The first choice of top to go with the black jeans is lovely, and I like it. It is a subtle dark green thing with sequins. I can feel the inner girl jump out when the sequins sparkle. Because of it I may need to go home and lock myself in the bathroom in a complete restoration and redecoration project.

The second choice of jumper, is horrible. It is bright blue, unless I am colour blind. Anyway, it is vile on me, even when Pink Lady Fashionista says it is lovely, just put a black necklace with it. Grit says No. Pink Lady Fashionista says It'll brighten you up. Grit digs her heels in. I say I don't like it, I'm not wearing it. Pink Lady says Take the blue. Grit says Go and get a second opinion. She does. Tula, the counter assistant, says the black trousers are nice. 'There you are!' cries Pink Lady triumphantly. 'Now take the blue. it'll brighten you up'. At this point, Grit, being a weedy coward, crumbles under the bullying, and thinks I'll wait until Pink Lady's gone home, then slip the horrible vile jumper back to the Returns counter.

So Grit goes home with black jeans that fit, new boots, a green top thing with sparkly sequins, and a satisfied smile. And for once, the total outfit expenditure cost more than my usual budget of £3.50.