Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Twenty four hours

Several years ago I sat in a locked car in a layby, at the edge of a field, in the darkness. I thought about how I would kill myself. Now it would be straightforward, because here were the wilds of the countryside, and it was dark. I would step out of the car and stand, there, in the middle of the twisting road, miles from anywhere, and a driver, any driver, would appear round the corner, be unable to stop, knock me down, and kill me.

I didn't think about the driver of that vehicle, about how they would react or feel. I did not care. I had no emotional life in me worth keeping alive. There was nothing positive, nothing there. Then I watched headlights come round the corner, disappear into tail lights, and thought to myself how I missed that moment, how long before there would be another.

Perhaps after an hour, I started to imagine what would the driver do, if they felt a whoomph against their car. I wondered what I would do with the knowledge that I had killed someone on a dark country road, perhaps as I was making my way home, perhaps after a good day, a family waiting, an evening to enjoy, and then it would all be taken away in a breathless instant by the cruel, thoughtless woman, standing motionless on the road. And then I thought of course my solution would not work; I would stop this horrible emptiness in my life, but I might pass it to another. Because here was some great poisoned disease that I could not be rid of.

I am over that deep dead depression now. It's gone. It was another part of life, and I hope it never returns. I suspect it might, on another day, in another form. Living past that period was not by a sudden jump, or a sharp awareness or clear insight. It took a long hard slog, of one day at a time.

The fragment of sense that helped was, wait twenty four hours before putting any plan into action. That is what I did. I thought, if I feel exactly the same way in twenty four hours then it is the right decision, the right thing to do. But in the twenty four hours there was a responsibility on me, a duty, an obligation, to find something, anything, that would keep it all going, just for another twenty fours hours. And another.

Give it twenty four hours. Look for anything. It might be the shape of a leaf or the sight of a flower, or a sticky up twig. It was rarely people, nor what people could achieve, like art or literature. These things did not matter. They had no place. The wind on my face, possibly, as I stood, staring to the skyline, tracing the cut out shape of a black leafless tree against the blue sky. Then I did feel glad, privileged, to be alive to see that shape. And that, day by day, is how life was.

Two years on, we all went travelling for a month. I cannot say it was a wonderful time, although I have happy memories. It marked another changed time, a time to make a new decision to accept the life I had now rather than mourn the life that was gone. And that is where the daily diary comes in. This blog, when it started, I told no-one about, and like many other bloggers, for months did not care whether it was read or not, because like so many of us will recognise, these blogs are therapies and workings out, a public way of saying thank you or I love you, to find common bonds, to say hey, it's possible to survive. It's possible to survive unwanted knowledges, a blasted marriage, cancers, deaths, sadnesses and life sentences.

It is probably unwise to post all of this. After all, I am honour bound to share life with my husband. World of strangers, your job is to poke me in the ribs and call me a melodramatic old cow. That will be OK. Life is good like that. Experience, and perspective, have stripped me of dignity and self importance, and made me virtually immune to offence. It has ensured I do not worry too much about failures, remorse, regrets, loss, the mess in the kitchen, the £1000 fine from the tax office, the way Tiger writes her b and d the wrong way round. All of these things are petty frustrations and challenges that irritate me when I see no obvious solution. And after I have kicked the bin and slammed down the wine glass, I can laugh at myself doing that. Because I know that none of them really matter, in the end.

But do you see that magnificent tree, stretching out its fingers to the sky, just across that field?

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Somewhere there is a plan

Grit goes beserk in IKEA and buys tables. She then thrashes around at home, throwing herself to the floor, weeping, gnashing teeth, wailing and tearing clothes before springing up and becoming irrationally aggressive, demanding hammers and screws that work.

On the plus side, she now has tables with legs.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Saviour

Typical. I wait all year for a saviour to come along and then two arrive at once.

After yesterday's Hat, today comes the children's Aunty Dee, driving at ten miles an hour from Wales, probably. So if you were stuck behind her on that narrow, winding stretch of B road today, apologies. She was coming to entertain Shark, Squirrel and Tiger while I involved myself with other matters. Like hiding in the office pretending not to be home, trying to keep a clear head to think about the year to come.

When Aunty Dee arrives, she is greeted by the gritlets like she's someone divine walking on earth, and have they waited an age for this appearance. They're over her like a rash, which is some testament to the strong relationship she has built up with these three squabbling little beings since they started rampaging around this planet eight years ago. She keeps on coming back to see them, yet they have thrown mostly everything they can right at her - bar sex, drugs and rock and roll, but that's only because they haven't thought of those yet.

Since year zero, they've thrown at her head a torrid mix of projectile vomit, temper tantrums, wheeled vehicles, chickenpox, books, insane jealously over access to her knees, paint, and a selection of ear piercing screams (which might actually account for her deafness). Yet still she comes. This is an astonishing feat, and really, I am in awe of that. Most people do not come back after the first triplet assault, but to drive for hours so she can 'pop in' and see her gritlet nieces is wonderful indeed.

Well Aunty Dee is popping in today and tomorrow and then popping back up to Northumberland for New Year's Eve. I hope she'll be seeing in the New Year smashed on Bolly and rolling about in a Northumberland gutter with a semi-naked young man. She's probably not doing that, but might opt for a sweet sherry along with her early night.

And this is Aunty Dee. She lives life quietly and neatly and gently and carefully and brings these qualities to the gritlets in a way that I cannot. I bring chaos, disorder, a big shout once a month and yesterday's cold bowls of pasta. The gritlets can see Aunty Dee's qualities too. Because the quality they yearn to learn from her more than anything else is how to KNIT.

I cannot knit, am driven criminally insane by the thought of knitting, would stab myself with the needles before I had the first row, would want to die, slowly, over a spit, rather than be forced to knit one perl one. Aunty Dee is my opposite, yet I am so glad of her skill that I might kiss the hem of her hand-knitted garment if she would let me. There she sits on the sofa, knitting away, chatting about birds in hedgerows and hot water bottles, and there the gritlets all sit circled around her, devotedly, devoutly, knitting away, quietly chatting about birds in hedgerows and hot water bottles, and from the bottom of my heart for all your gentle, calm and slow approach to life and more, for your remarkable ability to KNIT, I want to say, Aunty Dee, a big THANK YOU for making life quiet and gentle and clearing a space for my head, for saving me and us today.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Thank you, Hat

The Hat arrives for dinner. Thank God for The Hat. I can be on my knees with the tolling of Christmas and in she breezes, distributes three tins for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger and saves us all.

The tins, stored in her cupboard, flew in years ago from Iran, Iraq and IKEA in London. They each contain the same assortment: a Chinese Christmas tree ornament, an M&S body lotion, a thick chocolate biscuit, and a hand-sewn bag from Kuwait. With that eclectic mix the gritlets are absorbed for hours, putting the bauble in the bag, taking it out again, nibbling the biscuit and smearing body lotion on their heads, thinking it is exotic hair oil.

Bringer of gifts, bringer of cheer on cold winter nights, and delightful dinner guest, even with lentil slop and peas. The Hat claps her hands at her plate with an expression like I just served Raymond Blanc's finest, so good natured, warm and delightful she is.

She leaves us about eleven o'clock because she says tonight she's going to bed. She's had too many late nights. I don't really want The Hat to go. She reverses her car, crashes into the Vauxhall behind, lunges forward, crashes into the Citroen in front, swings out into the road, wildly waves out the window, and is gone, Happy New Year! ringing down the street.

2009 she says is special, because it's her 60th. She's right. Special.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Another one for the Oscars

At last!

Yes, I know it was filmed in May. But the producer went off to be important in Asia, and it was on his computer.

Now forget the excuses. Things like that happen in the major studios, I believe.

Well today the producer is at home, and had a pointed stick waved at him and told that if he didn't put out Tiger's work to the general applause of the nation, I would kill him.

So here it is.

Applause!

Friday, 26 December 2008

No good parent

I just cannot behave like a parent. The type of jubilant and happy parent required by Christmas. We need a type who does not growl, nor mutter under alcoholic breath as stinky as a dog's backside, Bah! Humbug!

No. At this dark time of year we need a type who springs out of bed each public-holiday morning, strewing spirited toy joy in gift-wrapped sparkle for their adorable young offspring who, incidentally, may be blue-eyed, blond haired, and not arguing.

I really hope this parent exists, the Christmas variety. If they do not, then they are simply the advertising constructs of a marketing director's brain. I may then have been deceived by that image so completely that were I to discover the truth - that there are other stinkyfoulmisery parents like me - then this knowledge would be like so much horrible torture I would have to lock myself in the bathroom, inject drugs, and not come out until Christmas is all over.

So I want you to exist, you happy 6am parents bouncing down the stairs delighting in your children's faces on discovering they possess the latest Destroyer Commando Death game. Please exist and, better still, declare yourselves, so that you can inspire me to carry on. One day, I can always hope, I may be like you.

But there are, of course, certain problems given by a morose and melancholy temperament that I would have to overcome.

First, the antisocial tendencies. I have a reason for choosing any one course of action. Usually, it is the opposite of what everyone else is doing. So if you all want cherry pie for tea, I'll have blackcurrant. And Christmas is no different. Here I am, sensing that there is one acceptably social way to enjoy this turkey-present-singsong-party fest. So sod that.

Worse, we are not religious. I have read the gritlets the nativity story from the children's Bible, and we fell about bemused. What did the shepherds do with those sheep? Did they leave them in the fields while they followed the star? Or did they take the sheep with them? Didn't anyone stop them, wandering off to Bethlehem with all the village sheep? We never get answers to stuff like that.

And then there's Santa. Now we have never told Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that a fat man dressed in red enters the house and leaves presents. Sorry. I never got over my mother's cruel betrayal. And I know some will say I am snatching away the lives of children. You should be happy then that when Squirrel, Tiger and Shark are smacked out on coke cocaine and hanging on street corners I will blame myself, not Santa.

So that gets me to family. Most of the Grit and Dig family have decayed, shrivelled, dropped off and died. The ones who are left are disturbed or dysfunctional, what with living in the attic or flogging harps and evangelism and all, so understandably we tend to steer clear. Aunty Dee will come round in a couple of days. It will be lovely to see her, but we don't need Christmas as an excuse.

I have a lot to overcome, right?

But there's still the turkey. Shit. We blew that too. We're vegetarian. On Christmas day we do baked potatoes. Every year. Either that or baked beans.

And we don't do armfuls of presents. Quite frankly, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have enough stuff. They are constantly having their rooms restocked, resources refreshed. Come on, you home educators, isn't this a problem for you too? Here we are, equipping three gritlets with Playmobil, plasticine, material for a flower arranging project, resources for art projects, jigsaws, dressing up clothes, audio equipment, something, every week, every month, all year round. Because this is how we do home ed. It's Christmas every day, isn't it?

Now I have kicked out the religious stuff, family rituals, food and consumer stuff, there's nothing left but a long holiday. Here we are all expected to do nothing. Except loll around in front of the TV. Which bores me rigid.

That's a lot of anti-Christmas sentiment to overcome. It may be too much. I am lost forever. I can only pretend to be that happy Christmas parent.

But in my defence, I'd like to say that I melt a bit inside when I see Squirrel quietly sat at the table dressed as a fairy in a paper tiara she made herself, slowly writing out words from a magazine to practise her spelling. I am soft and foolishly smiling when Shark becomes suddenly motherly and offers round the apple juice and frets that Tiger hasn't had enough. And then I fall in love all over again when Tiger smiles her shy, shy, smile when we smiled. She didn't scream or hurl plates, she just realised that she said stack when it should have been stuck, and where once this moment would have made a monumental change in emphasis in this household, from happy gathering round the dinner table to uncontrollable fury while hanging from the stairs, today Tiger simply shyly smiles and it is beautiful.

And those moments happen all year round, and not just at Christmas.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Just because it is free, doesn't mean it is good

Ha! Mummy Grit secures a two hour free skate at the local ice rink for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

Which shows how super cool is mummy Grit.

Actually, she is more than cool. She is totally frozen. Because in her haste to snatch up this Christmas day bargain, she forgets that she has to sit at the side of the ice rink at -10C for two hours.

The only consolation in this misery is that Dig gets to sit alongside me, and thus I subject him to the total frozen experience too. We sit there for two hours and discuss the advantages of marriage.

As opposed to divorce.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Choosing the right present

I have to come up with a plan. Otherwise, daddy Dig may get a repeat of the present from last year, and that is a toilet roll with glue smeared over one end.

Toilet rolls, used or wrapped, are not good Christmas presents.

For a start, any bare cardboard inner tube, torn from a wrapping used to wipe anyone's bum, does not do justice to the huge variety of craft activities his daughters Shark, Squirrel and Tiger have achieved for the last eight years.

For all this time, Mama has entertained and educated these small agents of mass destruction in life skills that range from doll's house furnishing, face painting, papier mache and woodwork, to costume making, puppetry, beading and balloon modelling. And that was probably last month. In fact now is one of those rare moments that I intend to blow my own trumpet, because mama has been quite frankly bloody amazing when it comes to leading bizarre and ambitious crafting projects. Girls, I'd just like you to know that. Because in a week's time it could all go belly up when I lay down across the railway tracks. And if you come up with a toilet roll smeared in glue to demonstrate your craft skills, make that five days.

What's more, we cannot run a craft project to provide presents for Dig without him knowing about it. He will be inundated for demands to help find the glue sticks or where is the hammer or can we leave this half-built model of a pterodactyl on his desk. This cannot do when the whole point is surprise.

Then there is the problem of what to do with the ruddy stuff once it is made. No matter how I follow the Happy Mummy Craft Activity bible with kids, let's face it. The process of construction is fraught with hazards, littered with dangers, and punctuated routinely by screaming fits and declarations of the world's end. Then the final result is crap.

So far so good. At this point I must not blurt out the awful truth that actually the pterodactyl looks like a toilet roll, or things really go downhill. So I am a good mummy. I say it is lovely. I photograph the toilet roll and declare it a wonderful likeness of an ant/sunrise/pterodactyl/ whatever you say it is, and at the first opportunity, I bin it.

Unfortunately, I might have to stare at the toilet roll on the mantelpiece for a good month until it is overtaken by the bookbinding project, which results in one book nailed to the kitchen table by accident and a book we can't open at all because Squirrel glued all the pages together.

So I am doing the sensible thing. I am taking all the gritlets down to the Agora shopping centre with a budget of £1.50 each and I am telling them to choose the best present for daddy Dig.

Tomorrow he is going to be the proud owner of an egg cup, a hammer with a wobbly head, and three plastic screwdrivers.

Happy Christmas, Dig. Just remember it is the thought that counts.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Will the joy never end.

In the spirit of the season, which Dig tells me is goodwill, I have screwed the front door knob back on.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Eat cake

Stop what you are doing.

Gather your children. Go and make these.

Ginger pudding cakes*

If you have a Shark-type child, you can confidently help them measure out the ingredients then set them going with the following instructions, reasonably confident they will neither set themselves on fire, nor burn down the house.

Heat in a large pan to a simmer:
300g golden syrup
180g black treacle
240g butter
360g caster sugar

In a bowl, mix together:
360g plain flour
2tsp ground ginger
1tsp mixed spice
1tsp bicarb of soda

Look for a different child to do the next bit because if there isn't something for everyone to do, there'll be a fight. Child number 2 is passing. She can help make a satisfying gloopy brown slop by adding the flour mix to the liquid mix and stirring well.

Make sure, if there's a Squirrel-type child making the gloop, that you remove the mix from the heat. You probably did that anyway. Squirrel will set herself on fire stirring anything at the hob because she is dressed as a fairy, and they are flammable.

Now add two beaten eggs and 170ml boiling water to the brown gloop and beat. The mix, not the child.

Obviously don't let Squirrel pour the boiling water. You pour that in. Honestly, that child's a hazard.

Now the good bit because they get to spoon the gloop into deep muffin tins and they are quite excited about that. If you have a Squirrel-type child, they will ensure the mixture is evenly spread over the kitchen table. When you are done with tutting, scoop it up and slop it back in the muffin tins. No-one will notice. Bake in oven about 175C/gas mark 4, 20 mins, or until all smellynice.

Grab child number 3 who is sulking because they weren't invited to do anything interesting like watch treacle melt and make the brown slop.

Instruct child number 3 to make the icing. They will demand you get the food colouring out. Argue. You know that one lick of that berry red colour is the mental equivalent of injecting crack cocaine straight into their brain.

After twenty minutes, give in and find the food colouring muck. Quite frankly, all we want to do is eat the ruddy cakes, not have a pitched battle over an E number. Slam the bottle on the table and silently resolve to throw the effing berry red food colouring away by accident on purpose.

Don't watch what happens next. There's white icing all over the place and with that berry red stuff it looks like a bloodbath.

Thank goodness! Cakes! Feed to children. Tell them they can only have three each. Better still, remove all remaining cakes and tip over them a large mug of brandy or rum. That'll stop the little critters noshing them. This, by the way, is a very good strategy for all types of foodstuffs. Except cornflakes.

* I ripped this recipe from the Independent magazine Mark Hix cookery slot, and it's from a woman who markets herself under the name cookie girl.

Cookie girl does not supply small children to help in the kitchen, even though she seems to dress
herself like a four year old. She bares her bosoms a lot. I suppose that is Nigella style. In fact next time I cook these I might take my top off first.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Just once more at the local museum

Here we are, wondering if we can get in without paying at the local museum on the night of the Victorian Christmas celebration. You think that's mean? Well here's a confession. We've not paid all year.

But of course I have an excuse.

Eight years ago I blundered through the door (sideways) pushing triplets in the widest buggy known to humankind, and demanded of the old lady custodian propped against the museum desk that she sell me an annual pass, right there and then, otherwise I'd be paying several hundred pounds in entrance fees.

This demonstrates these twin qualities of grit. Naivety and stupidity. Annual pass? flaps the old lady. I don't know anything about an annual pass! Is there an annual pass?

Grit is determined that if there isn't one, there soon will be. She has promised herself she will get out of the house every ruddy day. It is either that, or die, walled up behind 20,000 used nappies. The local museum is one of those out-of-the-house destinations. Five minutes by car or a twenty minute walk. Ideal for a despairing woman unsure of her own sanity and three small beings who don't give a toss where they are, so long as they can feed, sleep and burp. And it's either once a week touring the local museum, or going crazy and offering the walls another slice of raspberry cheesecake.

But this is a local museum you understand, with six visitors a year and a school party come July. Such items of paperwork as Application for an annual pass do not exist. Until Grit arrives to torture the old lady by waving babies at her and threatening to cry hysterically unless she can come once a week to look meaningfully at a Victorian shovel.

Six weeks after this demonstration of need, I receive in the post a laboriously typed bit of paperwork to which I add a cheque. In return I receive a small card. Museum Entrance Ticket 001.

Now I did renew that annual ticket every year. 002. 003. And so on. I am pleased to have done so. Under its new director the local museum is going from strength to strength and no longer is it a display of three shovels in a barn. Now it has a mocked up Victorian street and wheelwright and pharmacy and everything.

The gritlets have grown up with the confidence of running straight in, and the old lady just waved us through and no longer bothered to look at the card. She sort of assumed we still had one. And we did. Until the last one expired. And we had every intention of replacing it. But things take a while round here.

Well today it's the Victorian Christmas celebration, when we can drink mulled wine and Tiger can show off her skills with a Victorian hoop. And we are left with the slightly awkward situation that we will turn up at the desk and the old lady will try and wave us through.

Because we are not quite that mean, we will offer to renew our annual pass tonight. Even though we know the old lady will be so busy she won't be able to deal with the paperwork right there and then, and will wave us through, and we will promise to her that we will pop back and buy our pass when she's not so busy and she can find the form.

And we will, too. Honestly.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The only place for Christmas presents

Really, I should prepare a travel plan. Like, if I don't return home by 6pm, I am dead.

But be happy. Because you will know I have died in ecstasy. I will have died and gone to a heaven made out of hand crafted paper with leaves and bits of twig. Cover me in sparkly sequins and scraps of pointless satin ribbon that you have to look at with a microscope to see, but when you do see them, they will be woven into exquisite and delicate floral effects, suitable for sticking on Invitation to our Wedding. What else you do with them, I do not know. But I love them. Glue them to my headstone and call my spirit immortal.

This destination of joy, this nirvana, is of course, Hobbycraft, and there is a branch near you. Hobbycraft is perfect for Christmas presents. Dump Christmas. It is perfect for presents, all resources, bright and sparkly things and every crafting joy.

Now I know there are some naysayers out there. The sort who go POOPOO Hobbycraft. Ridiculously expensive and FOR WHAT?

Well, you doubters, ye unbelievers, just don't go. Leave the aisles to me and my kind so that we may process up and down in rapt adoration, dribbling.

Because Hobbycraft is not just offering craft resources. Of course not. I can get some of that stuff anywhere, and at half the price. What they are whispering to me, the glorious reward they are proffering, in return for my ragged soul and all Dig's money, is hope.

Here, everything is possible. I can be not the incompetent fool covered in glue, with glitter stuck to my face, but the careful and delicate crafter, creating flawless designs that are not only perfectly conceived and executed, but which result in items of such beautiful delicacy, they arouse intense delight in the eyes of the beholder.

And to joy, there is no end. I look at my children with new eyes. No longer these feral beings roving around my once ordered home, setting about my upholstery with two litres of PVA and six litres of unwashable acrylic paint. Not here, not here at Hobbycraft. My image is of Squirrel, transformed. Suddenly able to absorb and understand the complex instructions on the latex rubber mouse moulding set. That's possible. She can also read the warning instructions about pouring plaster of paris down the bathroom sink, and all the ones about microwaves, water, staining paint and glue bonding.

And Tiger! She will be able to knit! Shark will speak fluent sugarcraft dolphin set! Dig will be an inspired and involved parent, enthusiastically wiring up doll's houses to illuminate perfectly reconstructed Georgian interiors!

It is all possible, because we are in Hobbycraft, where everything makes sense and we will never again produce stuff which looks like this:


Or this:
And this:


Thank you, Hobbycraft!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Help in the garden

After yesterday, I have booked a four hour session with the gardener.

I'd just like to pause here in the hope that you think this is Grit in hot sex with Mellors down the potting shed.

It isn't.

Glastonbury the gardener comes round twice a year to prune hedges and to help hack bits off trees and the tallest shrubs. I am incapable of doing these things. The power saw got stolen. Anyway, if I had hold of it I would probably fall from the wobbly step ladder and be killed by a stake of holly through the heart, or I would sever my own arteries by accident. That would be typical. The only safe way now is for Glastonbury to do these things instead of me.

Really, I would like to think Glastonbury is an actual gardener, with a gardener's attention to detail, like can this plant live or die, but every time he opens his mouth he confirms to me he is not. He is a man with a chainsaw.

And that's what he does today. Chainsaws his way through overgrown trumpet vine, takes down the branch of the fig tree that's stopping everything from doing anything beneath it, and makes sure we can actually walk through the rose arch without having to crawl on our hands and knees, Colditz style, to get onto the lawn.

The only advantage to this carnage of the shrubbery is that I get to rest after my labours yesterday, and watch someone else do the same job but with much greater speed. Glastonbury does not have to pause his garden work to minister to a sickly Tiger on the sofa, nor feed a hungry Squirrel, or placate a steamed up Shark who has locked herself in the bathroom and won't come out without an apology.

And I know that the idea of having an old gentleman gardener tenderly pruning overhanging shrubs in a rambling Victorian garden may be quite appealing. But I suppose there are some advantages to watching a young man grunting and swinging a chainsaw about. And if it were not this frosty mid winter but the dog days of summer, then who knows? He might possibly arrive with his chainsaw, half naked.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Winter work

This afternoon I'll hack the garden down. Tiger with the mumpy face is lying flat out on the sofa. Shark is fuming, and Squirrel is hiding.

This garden is the secret garden, Victorian walled on all four sides, unseen by anyone passing on the street. Before children changed everything I was in here everyday, tending plants and flowers, occupying myself with colours, shapes, growth. I would make seats and hidden places where I could retreat with a mug of morning coffee or a glass of evening wine, all year round, to watch the birds come and the garden change. To do that now would be peaceful. I would like to do that today, sit out here and watch, only the seats are covered in dead leaves and plastic spades, remnants of a children's summer.

I know Shark is feeling better. She has growled at me twice. In our ensuing argument, she ordered me out of the room. Actually she didn't quite use those words but this monitor might blush bright red if it watched Shark's actual words appearing on its face, and from an eight year old at that. All I can say is that if I were writing a school report on her, I might choose Shark uses language directly. Not always appropriately.

I would sit and calm down in my garden, even with Shark's bite still smarting. But there are not many adult spaces here now.

When children came, the garden entered the wilderness years. Nothing was tended, shaped or pruned. Only children. Slowly, as the children began to toddle and tentatively to explore the secret garden, I shaped the space for them. I left some areas wild to discourage them, and other areas I planted with wigwams, dens, a little house, a place for gravel and archaeology, a place for ribbons and streamers, a place for chimes and music. I forgot about the adults, mostly. I found a huge old office table and put it by the lawn, under an elder tree. Marching out now from the house for the space of the garden, I make straight for it, like a refugee holding out for a symbol of former civilization. I'll drink my coffee here and tell Shark that if I go, I do so of my own choosing, not her command. And when I left the room, I hope she thought she hadn't won.

Squirrel is fine today, but hiding from Shark's tongue lashings. I can't lead Squirrel to the mountains of pink ice cream and rivers of strawberry sauce at the home ed children's Christmas party, because Dig's not here to look after Tiger. She's disappointed, but it can't be helped. This is always a problem, with one adult, outnumbered by children, and each of them wanting to do different things and go to separate places, or lie on the sofa, being ill. It probably doesn't help when the one responsible adult hides in the garden tutting at the starlings.

I think the garden is changing. It is growing up, shaping into an older, wiser space. This year, worried by commerce, I dreamed of self-sufficiency and planted more vegetables than ever before. Only a few came up. Next year I want the garden to be a place where Shark, Squirrel and Tiger grow solid, stomach-filling potatoes, not try out fancy peppers that on the seed packet look like Origami pendulums with pink stitching. I want them to get grubbier hands and learn a gardener's knowledge; choose vegetables, grow flowers, prune shrubs, shape spaces.

So there we have it. I have to go inside and reason with Shark, and lay down laws about respect. Half way through she'll probably get bored and wander off. And we lose the Christmas party but I'll gain an afternoon in the garden cutting back the shrubs, preparing for next year. Winter is a good time to review what's gone and shape the garden we want.

And next year I would like to feel in control, not so overwhelmed, struggling out of my depth, submerged in chaos. Not to feel I live in disarray, to live where the house shows the sign Welcome instead of Out of order. And so this afternoon, while I am cutting back the shrubs, removing the deadwood, sweeping the leaves, I will make new paths between the borders, where we can all stop and enjoy the flowers.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Diagnosis

OK, Tiger has mumps. She comes downstairs looking like a hamster that's had a particularly good night developing the nut storage system.

Quick as a flash I'm on the phone to our local surgery and extract a home visit on the basis that I am disabled. Actually I am not, but you try hoisting sickly, awkward and asleep triplets into a car and getting them to a health centre in under ten minutes. And there's not exactly a lot of help here, unless I kidnap the milkman. Dig, of course, is not here because when these things happen, he never is. So for that holy grail of doctor's appointments, I qualify.

And for the rest of the day I am Nurse Grit. I pump Tiger full of pink fluid. Shark I don't have to do anything with because she's asleep. Squirrel I suspect is OK but she declares herself sick in sympathy and I tell her she might be really very ill, and the best thing is to lie down and try some reading because reading books about wombats makes you better.

Now with a quiet day punctuated only by groaning, snoring, the dribble of pink fluid and Squirrel asking whether she should get out of bed yet to run about the house dressed as a fairy, I can do the ill thing that I never managed to do yesterday and hit the manuka honey.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Ring the bells of disease and doom

The kids must be ill. Because for twenty four hours, the screaming, throwing and excoriating insults stop.

I do not know what it is about winter. Why, oh why, in winter do we abandon our safe disease-free homes and huddle together in small, confined and airless rooms to start coughing over each other? People, can we stop that now? The Grit family brings back all sorts of stuff, and most of it is snot. It is getting me down.

We have had nothing in this household but illness, wheezing, dribbling, snorting, throwing stuff and hormonal temper tantrums since September.

OK, I admit the last two are not strictly passed by spraying infected germs over each other, but we have those symptoms too, so why not list them.

Take today. I am still struggling with this virus thing that has taken away all movement in my legs. Yesterday I thought my thigh bones had exploded out their sockets, they ached so much. All I want to do now is crash to the bed and go to sleep.

But mothers don't do stuff like illness, do they? They signed contracts in their own dripping blood the day they were disembowelled and everyone clapped and went ahhh! and these mewling infants sprang yelling and screaming into the world, demanding food and temperature control and constant supervision twenty four hours a day in case of excess dribble. On that day, mothers had to give up feeling ill forever. If they didn't, and went to bed with a bottle of aspirin and a medicinal vodka, they would be damned by all society as bad and evil mothers who gave in to things like exploded thigh bones, instead of soldiering on like good mothers should, ministering to their needy, hungry broods.

Thank goodness the needy, hungry brood is sick and off its dinner, that's all I can say. Now I can be sick and ill along with them and no-one notices and complains. It makes the decision to not go to the French lesson so much easier. We can all be ill properly. I can rest my bones. Squirrel can spray snot all over the house, Tiger can have a proper temperature if she wants and Shark can be foul mouthing us under her breath because her throat's sore. Basically, I can declare universal illness, we can all stay home, and I can do nothing.

But is there a special evil angel who sits on our rooftop to punish me for that decision? The decision to suspend everything and achieve nothing? Because this is what happens:

9.30 Boiler man arrives to fix the upstairs boiler.

9.35 Dig declares he needs a lift to the train station and be quick about it because the train leaves in eight minutes.

9.59 The gas man calls to take a reading. To negotiate him to the meters safely I have to navigate the back gate that falls off, the washing line that hangs eye-height and three bags of rotting rubbish that I forgot to put out for the bins last week.

10.03 Do same in reverse to see gas man off premises.

10.15 Boiler man is making unintelligible noises that might be boiler language. Unventiculated retrolucator pressurising introternaladaptor.

10.25 Window cleaner calls. He needs paying today. I have no cash and, looking in my bag, realise I don't know the whereabouts of a cheque book.

10.35 While searching for a cheque book, find unpaid ballet invoice.

10.50 Boiler man departs. Pressed, he speaks English. Broken. Parts and labour £150.

10.55 Window cleaner calls again. I tell him if his round brings him past us at 1pm, I'll pay then.

11.05 Electricity man calls. It takes me five minutes to work out he's not wanting to read the meter but is actually a door to door salesman in disguise. It takes me another five minutes to get rid of him. He finally leaves when I threaten to vomit on him.

12.30 Give up hunt for cheque book. Walk to cashpoint.

1.00pm Window cleaner calls and removes large lump of cash from purse.

On the other hand, if I had done that soldiering on grin and bear it type thing, throughout much of this time, I would have had a three-line whip in operation for the kids to be sitting in a French lesson, while I would have been buying ingredients for a fruit salad at Sainsbury's.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Nothing

We have a malaise. And we are not doing anything. Or going anywhere. We are achieving nothing. We have missed the lantern making session, the carols in the woods, the Christmas stars activities, the evening walk. And what can I say we have achieved today instead? Nothing. Nada. Bugger all.

We have achieved so little today, another will say it better.

Something is but nothing
something it is not
nil plus nil is nothing
nothings what i got
Nothing on the tele
Nothing going on
Nothing to get worked up about
Nothing by the ton
Nothing times a million
Nothing minus ten
Don't say nothing to no one
It's nothing to do with them
Come all the way from nowhere
and now I'm nowhere else
where nothing is out of place
No one lives
and nothing smells
talking to no one
it's like talking to the wall
i give you what i get
i give you bugger all

Thank you, John Cooper Clarke.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Literacy and power

We should be drunk. We should be dancing, singing, laughing, slapping our thighs.

But we're not.

When Shark started reading a little while ago - like proper reading, speed reading, voraciously gobbling up those words, moving on, leaping overnight, from I am a Fish to Introduction to Oceanography - that was when me and Dig stared in disbelief, mopped our brows and wondered what had happened to our little girl in her mermaid outfit with the green sequins all squeezed up over her tummy. If there was a moment to raise the glasses, dance a jig, show our knees at this transition, it was then.

Because we cannot do it now. Not at this moment. Now we have this changeling. This one time goddess Shark, today a god awful little madam, issuing smart lippy remarks and abuse that truly should score her beautiful lips. I swear she is not mine. Dig probably gave birth to her and slipped her in the cot to confuse me. Really, she has become utterly insufferable, with barely a good word to say to any of us, and that includes me, you and the milkman. Trust me. Just stay away from Shark until this phase is over. This I am age 8 but appear age 13 phase. And what do I blame? I cannot believe I am saying this. Shoot me now. I BLAME THE READING.

Imagine this. Shark is slumped in a book. I was pretty pleased about that at 8 this morning. By 10.30 I still cannot lever her out of bed to feed her breakfast. Each time a sister strays near her, within a five metre range, then Shark snaps her face off and throws the bloodied mangled remains at the floor spitting in disgust Get out of my sight! Poopy butt! I AM READING!

If I dare to interrupt Shark's world, what do I do? I need to video this. I have to KNOCK at the DOOR. Not like rat-a-tat-tat because that is way too aggressive to disturb someone who is reading Life in the Coral Reef, but tentatively, like the poor scullery maid pleading for a half second audience to ask for another lump of coal. And I might tentatively whisper something like, Shark, I want to talk to you. And do you know what Shark does? She shouts No! You will have to wait until I reach the end of the page! Then I stand meekly, waiting for Shark to finish reading about ocean currents in Asia.

And this is where reading has projected Shark to this other place; a huge dislocated time and space away from her triplet sisters, and especially Squirrel, who is still hung up with simple large format words. Shark sneers at Squirrel's activities with disdain, curls her lips and issues an articulate string of invective involving bottoms. Shark has reconsidered her status in the world, and she no longer wants to build trees from plastic and bits of wire. Shark does not want to play princesses. Shark wants to read the instructions from the dvd machine and learn how to determine water pressure in the Red Sea. And this dislocation means that Shark no longer sees her sisters and the rest of us as one and the same as her, her soul mates, her playmates, but as the people who interrupt the reading time and her new identity. The enemy.

And words in books? These are better to control us than all the weapons of mass destruction we could muster. Shark now realises they are not just words on a page, with Janet and John up trees and helping mother. Nope. Words are power. Literacy is power. The very act of reading, of holding a book, is power. With the power that words confer, she can command total attention and obedience from us all, adjust our behaviour, control our reactions and lay down the laws of breakfast and bedtime.

Today she makes me wait a good fifteen minutes before I can creep in and ask her whether I should make her toast or whether I should leave out the breakfast cereal.

World, watch out.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Serious stuff

It's not all rollicking laughter here you know. Some days there is home education to be done.

I would like home education to stop messing about and mean order. That would be safe and secure. I might do home ed by nailing Shark's clothes to the kitchen chairs and shoving spelling worksheets under her nose. This would feel like control. I would like this feeling. It would be good.

Unfortunately, things do not work like that on most days. OK then, no day I have ever lived with these three small creatures blasted from planet GB2735637 and deposited in my body by evil aliens, no day has ever felt safe, secure, and in control.

Today home education is like every day of home education. It means knowing life and everything in it is way out of control. So let's find some way of making the tiniest bit of sense of all that crazy, scary, disempowering and intimidating chaos.

I have no inner resources, no inherent streak of discipline, no ability to cohere a single strand of educational thought and keep it there. So I immediately look outside to this messed up world I live in, and I grab onto a happening bit of it, and I try and make some sort of order from that for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. Some might say we have a useful expression for that. It is clutching at straws.

Today there is a lantern festival in Smalltown. This is the day when all the dysfunctional families, weirdos, crazies, sad hippies, delinquents, misfits and recovering Jehovah's witnesses take to the town streets after dark, bang drums, and wave lanterns made with tissue paper. See? You thought your town was strange. Try this local back and beyond of England.

Now in this home educating world of ours, I think surely, the ideal thing to do would be to find out about festivals of light all around the world, then help the children each make their lantern and let them lead us to the market square in the dark and plunging temperatures to join in the annual procession round Smalltown.

Of course it doesn't go to plan. I cannot find the festival of bloody light book so sod that. Then there is a big fight over some Copydex glue, three sheets of tissue paper and a picture of a turtle. After three hours, with one offspring in tears, one sick, and one screaming choice obscenities involving bottoms, I feel that despair, or hanging myself from the hallway banisters might be a good solution.


But I'm not giving up. Because this is one of my mottoes. Never give up. Along with Let not great ambition overshadow small success. I don't mind admitting that I found this one in a fortune cookie.

So I keep going. I can shout, reason, complain, use logic, argue, throw myself on the ground weeping Pity poor mama! but eventually I get right through to the bitter end, which is two and a half lanterns, two children on a walk with daddy headed to the start of the lantern parade, and Shark screaming her face off in the schoolroom because the turtle's got no light on its head.

And at this point I finally feel some authority. Some control. Because I march right up to Shark's tissue paper turtle, grab a torch, a six foot beanpole from the garden and a metre of masking tape and I sort out the ruddy turtle-light problem. Now or never. I hand the lantern to Shark and say The parade of town weirdos starts in five minutes. Are we joining daddy and your sisters and all the other dysfunctions, or are we staying here in the schoolroom to cry?

I am so proud of that moment of authority and control. Because out of this chaos and mess and disorder comes three little girls, each with a lantern made out of tissue paper, glue, beanpole and torchlight, walking proudly, side by side, with all the crazies in town.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Civilization breaks down

The boiler that serves the kitchen, schoolroom and downstairs bathroom is mended. Huzzah! Hot water! Heating!

Within two hours, the boiler that serves all the upstairs rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms, breaks down. Boo! Hiss! No hot water. No heating.

There is only one answer to this terrible synchronicity which foretells yet more household expenditure, mayhem and disaster. Go into survival mode, paint our faces green, and take to the woods.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Picking the carcass at Woolies

I suppose I should pay homage to the jumbled up mess of crud that has become Woolworths, as it vanishes from our high streets.

I used Woolworths. Five years ago, it was a convenient half-way stop back to the car at the shopping centre. Here I bought Thomas the Tank Engine toys. Three at a time.

Not that I wanted to. I am a woman in my forties and each Thomas toy cost me a fiver. However, it was an easy solution to a horrible problem.

There was a point when pushing the triple buggy became too much for my weedy arms. Squirrel, Shark and Tiger were not exactly delicate and fragile babies. Here's one.*


About the age of two they became enormously plump and heavy. They looked like miniature washer women from Halifax. Pushing one of these bumpers was an ordeal. Pushing three in a triple buggy was a task of which Hercules probably said, Sod that. I'll do the stables job instead.

The solution was that Squirrel, Shark and Tiger had to walk, like it or not. The response was usually not. Grit, being a crafty child manager, knew that small children with little fat legs could manage so far and then would need encouragement. Carrying three at one, using electronic motors, strapping on rocket propulsion or administering discreet kicking were all out of the question. Instead, I detoured through Woolies and bought three Thomas toys.

Crucially - and apart from being the adored and wonderful Thomas for whom we would sell our souls to possess and chew his lovely face off - these toys had wheels.

From then on, the progress to the car was straightforward. I would rip open the packaging and give Thomas, Henry, James, each a firm shove, sending them careering forty miles an hour towards Debenhams, where the car was parked. Behind them would hurtle, screaming with delight, Squirrel, Shark and Tiger.

This technique had the added benefit of causing the crowds to part, Red Sea style, for fear of being annihilated by three small torpedos, totally oblivious to all the world except the departing rear ends of Thomas and all his little chums. For me, I just enjoyed seeing the childless women in heels run.

And those are my fond memories of Woolies. And this, my kind farewell.





* OK, that was just an excuse for a cute baby shot. But she's my cute baby, dammit.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Educated in Cambridge and Ely

Honestly, anyone slowly stirring coffee spoons in miserable isolation while the kids slump equally glum at school could do worse than consider home education. It gets you out the house.

Here we are, rising at dawn. We drive to a Tesco car park and jump on a coach to become lost in Cambridge, while the driver swings round and round looking for a theatre. We're late, but it doesn't matter. Today our home ed group has the dedicated attention of the theatre company Indefinite Articles for a shadow and light performance of The Magic Lamp using water, oil and overhead projectors.


This is lovely theatre for children who like making shadows with the bedside table lamp, although I think the narrator doesn't today quite pull off the multiple personalities required for old Arabia. He's a dab hand with a light beam, though.


And the fun doesn't end there. It's back on the coach and off to Ely for the cathedral. You see? You can learn something if you put that coffee cup down and start wandering about old England pretending to educate your offspring.

Ely is a cute little place, and I like it. It's nothing more than a small market town and it has an air that suggests the inhabitants like to think it is genteel and prosperous. The Oxfam shop in the high street probably considers itself on a par with Oxford and Ealing.

Yet in this comfortable and homely little town, there is an enormous and imposing don't-mess-with-me cathedral, towering over everything and everyone, watching, probably, just in case you have a mind to sin.


It's so huge that it spurns the day trippers with their crude photo cameras. You can see it's not possible to fit it all into the frame.


And you can see the sort of impact it has on the pilgrim gritlets. Here they are. See the jubilation in those footsteps? That's the thought of being locked in a cathedral for two hours for their own good.

But this says something about this huge monument. Its shadow spreads large, damping down the green spaces and narrow streets. If it wasn't for the ridiculously ambitious architecture - the sort of medieval madness that knows the height of a structure by the point at which it falls down - then I would say this building is way over-the-top domineering and oppressive and out of all proportion to its place. Yet this is exactly why we all come to it; the space inside the cathedral is huge and compelling. Shafts and beams of light pattern the stone, shifting gracefully as the light through the windows lifts and falls each day.

Here we have the power of the church, right in the bog, I tell the gritlets. The story goes that the cathedral owes something to Etheldreda who popped her clogs sometime in the seventh century. Pilgrims started to flock to the small eel island here in the marshy flatness of fenland. Very soon, and probably turning a bob or two from this holidaying business, the enterprising Norman bishop Simeon ordered the building of a cathedral. It was finished in 1189. And, business being business, the cathedral still charges an entrance fee.

Now, at this point you'd probably think we'd had enough education, what with the Christian imagery, candle tour and all. But no, because it's the stained glass museum next, followed by a do it yourself stained glass workshop.

The stained glass museum is fascinating, and if you're wandering past Ely cathedral, I'd recommend it. Here's Mary, being told she's going to have a baby.


Those hands in elevated Gollygosh surprise? That face beautifully serene? I bet at the first scan the sonographer didn't blurt out There's three in here! like she did with me. Then Mary wouldn't look quite so calm.

There. Now it's back to the coach and home again in the dark, munching on treacle flapjacks that Grit made yesterday in preparation.

You see? There are worse things to do with a life than spend a year or so home educating, if you are stirring those coffee spoons and staring out the window, wondering what next to do.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Right time, right place


Better than last week's archery lesson, which wasn't on at all, thanks to Grit writing the wrong date in the diary.

We turned up for it of course, to be met by the bemused staff wondering why we were a week early.

If it could have got worse then, it did. Coincidentally last Tuesday was the day of Squirrel's ballet exam. (Thank goodness, because it meant an end to crashing around in the bedrooms.) The exam, of course, meant Squirrel was busy, and there was a spare place at the archery lesson. One I gave away to Issy, aged nine, who also turned up with her mum. As I'd said. A week early. In the pouring rain.

But this week I have the diary-date-day thing clear in my head and today is an archery lesson. Definitely. Even the sign says so. And Issy's come again and everyone's happy.

Which should teach me a lesson about dates, and days. If only it's a lesson I could learn.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Do not say aaah

Household mouse count:

One ejected to garden to practise mouse survival skills.
One transported to park in a plant pot, instructed to clear off.
One discovered dead on stairs (presumed suicide thanks to family break up).

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Record! Plastic Christmas tree up in only seven hours


Shark: So. I suppose this room is not tidy enough for the Christmas tree. Is that what you are going to say?

Grit: Should I look under the bed?

Squirrel: No.

Grit: Let's say it's tidy enough for the Christmas tree. I will get it now. No smacking each other about with the branches this year or I will put it away for 24 hours.

Squirrel: In 24 hours the room will be messy again!

Grit: Exactly. Then we'll have to repeat all the torture.

Tiger: It's not fair. I haven't got a Christmas tree in my room.

Grit: If you tidy up your room, you can have a Christmas tree.

Squirrel: (Breathless with delight) LOOK!LOOK!LOOK!

Shark: Squirrel, you can have the pink and red ones. I want the green and blue ones. What do you want Tiger? You cannot have the yellow ones. Or the white ones. And you see that orange one? That's mine.

Tiger: It's not fair! Shark says the baubles are hers!

(Pause for bauble negotiation that make an Arab-Israeli peace settlement sound simple.)

Grit: Right. Here's the tree! Who wants to stick the branches in?

Tiger: I'm not putting the branches in. I'm not allowed a Christmas tree in my room.

Shark: I'm not doing that. Squirrel can do it.



Grit: We have been doing this now for four hours. Can we break for lunch and put the baubles on after food?

(Yum. Reheated pasta and boiled up tomato sauce from yesterday.)

Grit: OK! Let's get started again! But I've just got some work to do, so I'll leave you to finish putting everything up!


Grit: (Returning after two hours blogging and a traditional glass of putting-up-the-tree brandy.) Oh bloody hell. I see the dollies are in on the act.



And what is that leopard doing there. Can we have a tasteful tree this year? Like no cuddly toys. No plastic bags. No sandwich boxes. And no pieces of string, so get that off as well.

Shark: That's Tigers. I said it looked like doo doo.

Tiger: It's not fair! I'm never allowed a Christmas tree in my room! My sisters have everything!

Squirrel: Amethyst likes it there! Can we put fairy lights up his tail?

Grit: If he stays, he has to behave and no fairy lights round him. They will electrocute him or set him on fire and then we're in trouble. Is that penguin going on as well? I can't bear to watch. I shall come back in an hour to see the finished work. (Two glasses of brandy later.) Well done everyone! There are some lovely displays!


Tiger: I will never be allowed to have a Christmas tree in my room. Evereverever.

Grit: You can have a Christmas tree if you tidy up your room. Do you want to take a picture of this tree?


Lovely. Let's come back when it's dark and take a picture with the fairy lights.


Success!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

I am in ignorance of almost everything

Today we can be found locked with a large group of morris dancers in Luton's Stockwood museum transport section. Apparently, it's a Georgian festival. I didn't know that morris dancing had anything to do with England's mad Georges. Anyway. For Georgian festival, read morris dancers, four reenactors, and eight craft stalls in the greenhouse. Not quite rivalling Bath yet.

Well, this probably tells you something about the state of my home educating mentality. It's one that drives me to seek demonstrations and exhibitions of knowledge or culture all over England, no matter how cold the field, nor how bizarre the demonstration.

And I'm not sure the gritlets learned much about the Georgians, except to be disdainful of monarchy. They probably didn't learn much about morris dancing either, apart from the fact that here is another bizarre way of the world.

Today, it's either that, or a comment on the impending Christmas festivities. Here we are in this mad rush towards Christmas when particular social conventions must be followed, but I don't know why.

And here is the following, on a notice board in the cold underpass otherwise known as the local ice skating rink where Tiger has her morning Saturday lesson.


A joyless plastic tablecloth and some torn up crepe paper, stuck on at an angle, perhaps to fill up the noticeboard. It is the worst, saddest, most uninviting and pointless, the most unloveliest signifier of Christmas, that I have ever seen. It is the Alzheimer of a decoration. Here it is, but I do not know what purpose it serves, nor what name it has.


But if you are moved by morris dancing, go here. The troupe we saw in Luton had a proper pig's bladder on a stick.

Friday, 5 December 2008

From science there is no escape

Fridays is science day. And I am not giving up just because I have a leaking nose. Between sneezing I caution about germs with Joseph Lister. Or until I am told to shut up by Shark because I am putting her off Cheerios, thanks to my cautions of the hazards of coughing directly into open wounds during abdominal surgery.

Well of course I am not deterred, because from my point of view, home education is all about turning misery to advantage. Of course I know that at the sight of mother getting out the anatomical body with the plastic liver the gritlets might say actually that is turning advantage to misery, but these things have to be done.

Anyway, I say indulge me for ten minutes while I show you the kidneys as well, because then we can all go out to meet San and her lovely kids, and roam around a playground for an hour to celebrate the fact it's not raining. There, you see? Meteorology.

And what better lesson in the natural sciences than to trek to the playground on mama's new route. That's across a boggy field wondering why we are up to our ankles in water. Is it because the recent rainfall is draining into the river I ask, or is it that the river is seeping into the land?

Here we are looking for a way out of the field. The playground is across the river, on the other side.

There isn't actually any path to anywhere. There is a flooded river at the end of this field with no bridge. After fifteen minutes I speculate I might have found the only field in England built entirely on an island since after exploration of the field we can see that on three sides we are surrounded by water with no means of crossing.

I could turn that into a problem solving lesson but Tiger starts legging it back to the car, saying she's had enough, and complaining that half her playtime's been taken up getting her feet wet. It is not playtime, I tell Tiger, it is a natural sciences and geography lesson about rivers, drainage, and a lesson on the need to read maps properly to avoid the necessity of a half-mile walk on water.

Well everyone can properly cheer up and dry out later this afternoon, because I have tickets for our private cinema screening of Madagascar II, which is opening in town today.

And be in no doubt that this is science as well, I tell the gritlets. Because afterwards we will have that important discussion about mass, momentum and force, like how far can you propel a cartoon lion from an elastic band strung between two trees while hindered by a dancing lemur and a fat hippopotamus?

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Work in progress

The Mose by Squirrel.
(Yes, I will attend to that spelling.)



Fish by Shark.
(Shark, they cannot all be called Fish.)


Hog of Doom by Tiger.
(Let's talk about that title, Tiger.)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Thoughts of school refusers

If you are at that point where your kid hates school so much you are physically sick with having to pick them up off the floor where they have hurled themselves face down, clung with their fingernails to the door frame, hung from the top of the curtains, screamed till their faces turn blue, or suffered total body paralysis which requires them to be manoeuvred to a classroom in the ironing board position, then you are not alone.

Some kids are badly affected by school. They hate it. They dread it. Believe me. I taught Lizzie who spent an entire year of her school life being kicked out the office by the nurse. I was under strict instructions never to let Lizzie out my lesson when she clutched her head, grabbed at her stomach, announced imminent vomiting, rolled around the floor emitting death rattles, or passed out thanks to not breathing. Some of these symptoms were just a normal part of every one of my lessons for most kids, but Lizzie was a speciality at all of them. And the reason was simple. She hated school.

Well her parents were not exactly fizzing with the idea of having Lizzie with them all day, what with the drop in necessary income, so at school she had to stay and learn to live it. She's probably grown up now so I don't know what she'd say about having to be schooled for so many years.

I suppose I am rattling on about this because it is December. When term breaks up in a few weeks, some kids will be so relieved that the holidays have come that their characters will change, and you'll notice how bright and alive and happy they are. And it's not just Christmas sparkle doing that.

And I guess we've had a pretty good day at this home education malarkey ourselves, what with a theatre performance of Alice in Wonderland in Wellingborough this morning and a tour round Rockingham castle this afternoon. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger mostly loved all of it, except for the squaring up in the theatre foyer over the packet of crisps that I hadn't even bought. Unusually, I enjoyed the day too, since it took my mind away from more pressing household matters like mice and no hot water. I didn't particularly enjoy being patronised by posh people at the castle, nor facing out the woman with the Labradors, but it's probably a better way to spend the hours than peeling Tiger off the curtains.

I don't want to convert you to home education. Not at all. That is not in my interest because we enjoy our private museums, cinemas, swimming pools, art galleries and the rest, thank you very much. No. School can be a great place to learn survival strategies.

I just wanted to say, if you are facing January and a child up the curtains, that home education is possible, that's all. It's possible.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Monday, 1 December 2008

Miserable nonsense and fruit salad

Grit is sinking into a death hole of paralysis, thanks to the fact that she realises the calendar has inescapably moved round and it is now DECEMBER. This means Grit can no longer hide behind November with her fingers wedged in her ears singing lalalalala! Can'thearyou! Can'thearyou!

December is the cruelest month and sod the rest. The days are so cold and painfully dark. Colder now that the boiler which serves the kitchen and all downstairs rooms has finally done what it has been threatening to do for weeks, and broken down good and proper. Darker that yesterday evening the lights popped off phut! Because of what we do not know, but suspect the mouse chewing through the cables at the partying speed of a calorie-innocent Tiger with a packet of ginger nuts.

Add to our broken boiler and happy mouse, all the inevitable darkening December skies, the summoning letter to the cervical smear, the milk bill I lost, the oven door that falls off, the apple chutney I didn't make, the rain on my newly hung washing which I forgot about anyway and has been there three days, and all the miserable sky in its grey leaden end-of-2008 foreboding. And tell me things don't look grim. I'm going to have to grit these ground-down teeth and remind myself, before I lose it completely and tie the noose, that every problem has a solution, every cloud a silver lining, and there is a bright side of sunshine if only I look for it.

OK then, that silver lining might be that if the sun disappeared for December and all the world went whoomph, it would spare me the terrible pointlessness of hope. I have discovered that this dreadful thing called hope starts out alright with optimism by its side but after a few years hope dumps optimism and reveals its true nature which is the slow deadly destruction of the soul.

So it's December. Grit those teeth. I may not hope, not for bright days, hot water, warm rooms, support for when I cry, the reassurance of a husband's hand, a cat to kick, any intimate turn-the-lights-down-low love, but I have other reasons to get out of bed, surely. Tiger's smile, snuggling down into her bed if I kiss her awake, Squirrel's joy on seeing her pink socks wrapped round her newly filled hot water bottle, and the sight of Shark sunk in a book for hours at a stretch.

And if Tiger growls and scowls, if I get the wrong socks and if Shark snarls go away forever, I might beat my head in lonely despair but I will not give in. I will live through this miserable December with all its woes.

Because there is always fruit salad.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

The autonomous journey

Really, I cannot be a fully paid up member of the autonomous home ed collective. To be educating autonomously means that the child leads everything. Every inquiry, every illogical and impenetrable, confusing, irritating WTF mind jump.

One minute you are explaining how radiators work and suggesting you build a scaled model of a central heating system, even though you do not know yourself and hope there is a book in the library. And just as you are trying to think through that process: to create order out of chaos: to logically order that junk of stuff in that mummy-mashed brain and do right educationally by your small dependent Squirrel, you find she is bored already, and has wandered off to stuff Sindy doll in the freezer in a cryogenics experiment. Then while you wonder whether to chase Squirrel and pin her down with copper piping and a ventilator fan, Tiger is slicing through your brain with a squealing hot knife of Sharksaysthecameraishers! Sharksaysthecameraishers! And if that is not enough, Shark appears clutching a broken camera and inquiring sweetly, Can we make cake?

Basically, the combination of me, triplets and autonomous education, in this house, all together, does not equate. No-one would get anything done. And I would have to revert to Plan A. Suicide.

So what do I do? I plot. I plan. I think ahead. I use diaries, think about maths days and work out how to get everyone interested in the functions of the liver. I do not mind being a strewer, a fat controller, a spy, a tracer of paths. Because to educate fully autonomously requires that huge well of emotional resilience, a steely, steady nerve, more resistance, inner peace and calm vision than I can ever possess.

Anyway, if I was in doubt, and for one moment believed I could do the autonomous walk in full and complete confidence, without medication or alcohol abuse, then let this moment disabuse me of that thought.

I have just picked this up from the floor.
Daer Jacky
I am in a ces. How are yuo. Plass com to me. I am at ces hper 2. Lot of love from feer. xxxx
I freely admit. I am planning right now how to introduce spelling games into Squirrel's world and make her think she is decorating a balloon.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Old trees

Milton Keynes again, to hear an illustrated talk about old trees and apple orchards. Old trees are lovely, are they not? There they are, on the skyline, distant and ravaged by wind and time. But there's an old woven path to them that once was a drover's way, or the short-cut home by the hedgerow. And, if you take it, you can reach them, touch them, hug their old bones, stroke their crackled leaves, and thank them just for being hundreds of years old. They have survived all the things I could not withstand, like bomb blasts, thunderstorms and gales, and people digging up my favourite fields.

And the message is, look around you and find your old trees, go and say hello and shake their ancient branches.

Before the developers come.

Friday, 28 November 2008

We interrupt this blog...

...in honour of Belgian Waffle, because truly I am humbled to win the waffle's tremendous competition with my sorry tale of Christmas woe and misery, given that there are so many sad, miserable moments swilling around, and which memories we are all going to have to celebrate again quite soon.

But I feel I must say thank you in some suitable way. And it is with this.

Some time ago, as Belgium Waffle was shoving tortoises in her fridge, she draws attention to the medieval cabbages held therein. Well, Belgium Waffle, here is my Savoy cabbage, which sits in our office fridge, and which I keep not for nostalgia purposes, but as an offensive weapon should I ever confront a burglar intent on stealing our meagre stash of Euros (incidentally kept in the office oven).

Now what think you of this beauty?


Inadvertently, Belgian Waffle may have liberated us all. In the same way that we women can now share frank discussion about vaginal discharge and nipple hair, we can now speak cabbage. Come on ladies. It is time. Stand up and be proud. Show us your rotting vegetables.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Nine months late? Is that all?

Grit has finally got around to the gritlet's birthday celebrations. Yes, I know how long ago their birthday actually was. February.

In a moment of stupid drunkenness, foolish Grit casually suggested to the gritlets that for their eighth birthday they could invite some chums to a local paint-your-own ceramics studio. And kids don't forget anything, do they? Like who ate the last slice of pie last December and who had to wear Shark's coat when they didn't want to.

Well I say some things take time. Anyway, in the home educating community you can never get everyone together on the same day at the same time. And Trinny went back to school in September, so she can't come at 2pm, can she?

Oh blimey, just better go with who's around, right here and now, and then I can get the ruddy thing done and dusted by Christmas.

Happy birthday, gritlets!

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A fine day out in London

If you fancy a visit to London, come with the Grit and Dig family today.


Squirrel, stop chattering about mongoose and stand still. I'll take your photo. What train? Dash! Nearly missed it thanks to taking silly pictures of a Squirrel when we can photograph her anywhere. Anyway, it's useful to have a picture. We might lose her again. This time we can tell the police and security staff what's she's wearing. Last time I couldn't remember. Anyway, all aboard!

Now, we're in a public place, no screaming. What's in mama's bag? It's the comb and detangler! Let's get started! And Tiger, no screaming or clutching at your head while you roll about the floor. The other passengers don't like it.


Thank goodness we made it on the Tube. Squirrel? Where's Squirrel? Phew, that was lucky. Can we keep an eye on her now please?

Here we are! First stop! Piccadilly Circus road junction. Mama's on memory lane now. Do you know little gritlets, I worked in an office at the top floor of Liberty's in Regent Street? One day I'll tell you all about it. Although tales of drunken staff hurling computers from windows might have to wait until you're older. Anyway, we're here for Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum with a big bunch of home educators! Squirrel, stop wandering off. Come and have your photo taken at Eros with your sisters while we wait for everyone else.



No arguing. It's a tradition.

And stop kicking the pigeons. I agree they are vile rats with wings and should be exterminated but they're flapping in my direction.


At last all our group is here! In we go!


What an assortment of junk. A duck made out of trash. I cannot say the experience has advanced my understanding of humanity one jot. Although now I can believe I'm living on a planet full of mad people.


Phew! Thank goodness we're out of there! And now we're crossing the Thames! This is fun, isn't it Shark? And where's Squirrel?

Now while we wait for our home ed crowd, let's have a stroll along the river. Remember finding out about Simon de Montfort? We need to pause here everyone for a lesson on the English Parliament. Tiger, come out from that candy floss shop. I'm not buying any.

Aha! This is what we're really here for today, isn't it Shark? An afternoon at the London Aquarium.

Is that funny noise the fire bell? My goodness, listen to the recorded message with a very calm lady repeating, This is an emergency. This is an emergency. This is an emergency. She's not panicking at all, is she? Unlike Squirrel. Dig, hold her hand. She's becoming all scared while we are marched along a dark corridor and thrown out into the street. Typical. That wasn't a very useful way to spend half an hour. Let's have everyone back inside and we can start again.

Now Shark, do I have to keep taking pictures of fish?

OK then. Well look, we've been here four hours now and they're shutting the place up. We'll come back when they've built the walk-through tunnel. Now, shall we do something really ill advised, and walk over to our favourite Spaghetti House and eat pizza and chocolate cake?


What a lovely day out! And off the train just in time to get home for bed! Have we got everyone? Where's Squirrel? Squirrel? Has anyone seen Squirrel?