Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Other worlds

We are home for 24 hours, travelling en route from Dubai, aiming for Barcelona. This is how Dig lives, and I like it. I like it so much that I could give up my soul to this, and travel, constantly. I would never come home. Home would be where I am, here and there; best with Dig and Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, and we would make up life just as we needed. Simple pleasures. But of course now, at my age, I need a hot dinner, laundry, pressure showers, working kitchen, black coffee on waking, and clean white sheets too. Luxuriously, these travel essentials appear on those rare days I touch down into Dig's world. Along with cars and drivers, lunch at someone else's expense, and proper parties with smart talking chit chat and champagne.

Well that is how it has sometimes been, amidst the Dubai desert and the harsh Yemeni mountains; finding a decorous Britishness handing out the fizz. Dig's life we've glimpsed as we've tagged along behind, peering, oohing and aahing at the sounds and the sights. And with Dig we have been allowed to inhabit sand-blasted houses thrown up in the desert, cool down in alabaster bathrooms, drop by on diplomatic gatherings, ride camels, and sip mint cooler.

On the days we have been led by the hand into this other world, then Grit and the little gritlets have tried to smile nice when required and not be overwhelmed, out of our depth. Mostly, when we are there, the important people are hospitable and indifferent, gaze past us and look intently only to Dig. In the past that's a circumstance I've been glad for or resent, usually swayed by how many children I have hanging from me, how much I've drunk and what frock I'm wearing. But this time, when we can be explained away as the family brought along as an after thought for a rare together holiday when the work is done, then in everyone's eyes we can be properly placed, as taggers along, an explanation as to why we are living out of one small wheelie bag, and why all our clothes are washed one colour. Then it's easy for us to be unimportant and get on with what's necessary, like feeling the warm, rounded relief of the white gypsum plaster lifted up in alphabetic patterns against the brown mud brick of the San'a town house we've so happily inhabited, before leaving without dignity and with Tiger in tears.

But in the 24 hours we're passing through the UK, it is not Dig's world we're meeting. It is Grit's. Grim, back to earth, and slapping into normality. I wake this morning, sleep-crashing through timezones, and hear banging. Opening the window I discover two men heading up to the roof, forty foot high, one tied to a rope, perched atop two wobbly ladders, the other hugging the bottom of the ladder because, he says, he's two stone heavier and better on the ground. I'd go and stand in the garden and find out what's going on, but I can't locate any warm clothes and anyway, scaffolding is blocking the back door.

So today Doug and Dave are on the roof, there are ladders and a rope hanging like a noose over the front door and metal pipes everywhere, but there's no time to know or explain. Tomorrow we're out in another direction, to Barcelona, and while Dig's working, Grit and the gritlets will be wondering about Dig's world while strolling down Las Ramblas.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Squirrel goes native

and Grit falls in love with mud.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Friday, 15 February 2008

Thursday, 14 February 2008


We wake up at midday in Dubai, in an apartment. Here are Shark and Tiger on a balcony. That's the first rule. Only two children on the balcony at any one time. Not 'Hurry! Let's get up and go and explore Dubai!' Nope. Rules. Whatever the country, time, place and space. Let's draw up a list of rules, most of which will be incomprehensible should we ever need to explain them. Only two children on the balcony at any one time. That can join the long list of bizarre Grit and Dig household injunctions, designed to stop triplets slaughtering the other or sending a sister straight off to A & E.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Wedding ring

Usually, I do not wear a wedding ring, even though I remember getting married. I remember it clearly, almost minute by minute. I even recall the evening hours before the looming day, when I became transfixed by the terrifying journey I was to embark on, clenched my fists, and threatened to run away. Perhaps it was a test. Perhaps I half expected Dig to say, 'Alright then, I agree. The registrar wouldn't be upset if we didn't show'. But he didn't, thank goodness, and here we are, married still.

I know I am married too because the day itself is the only day our mothers ever met each other. Can you believe that? This is how selfish we both were; we wanted no-one to come into this private world with its defences and fortresses. No-one. Not family, not friends, not colleagues.

Anyway, that's another story and only tangentially relevant to why now, I do not wear a wedding ring. Here are the reasons.

1. Our fortress exists, somewhere else, and does not need a sign. We will probably grow old and die together. Hope so. Meanwhile, our marriage has, by degrees, become a public place. Everyone now wanders through. Doctors and midwives have invited passing strangers moving through corridors to come and peer up my marriage bits. Three children have torn me all to pieces, gurgling probably, while surgeons sharpened knives. The accountant tots up my wifely status, annually, while the roofer tramples on me with bad wife jokes. The gas board cannot get its head around the fact that I do not call myself Mrs Dig and the local council doesn't care and calls me Mrs Dig regardless. With this onslaught, to signal the gates to our loyalties seems strangely pointless. And what difference now can a gold marriage band make to this?

2. Gold. Ahhh. The soft yellow liquidness of that band as it wraps itself around your wedding finger. Unless it is not gold, of course. Because Dig actually suffers from a kind of northern blight which means that if your wedding ring has more than one molecule of pure gold inside, it may be too expensive and anyway, brass does a champion job and looks the same. Meanwhile, H. Samuel has cottoned on to the fact that most marriages don't last more than three years, and has thus created a self-destructing cheap gold band that after a few washes turns your wedding finger a sour green. Green is not a good look, creeping up your wedding finger like leprosy or plague or a symbolic sign of your impending divorce.

3. When we got married I was size 8. Now I am size 12 and unlikely to return to slender times unless I am faring badly in the eating department. On the basis of the last few years, this is not likely. Squeezing a tiny wedding ring on and off my chubby finger has become something of an ordeal and one that I have had to grease-assist with industrial strength washing-up liquid. Unfortunately, washing-up liquid seems to be one of those substances which hastens the black and green colouration of the entire finger area.

Which all comes to explain why I do not normally wear a wedding ring. Unless I am flying into an area of the world not noted for its liberal attitude for relationships between the sexes. Like Arabia, for example. And then I spend a midnight hour hunting round the house wondering where I left that brass ring 18 months ago.

Before marriage, travelling unmarried with Dig was largely unproblematic. I was challenged on two occasions. The first, drawn aside in India by a young woman airport official who sternly demanded to know if I was married to the man I travelled with. I considered lying but decided that if someone younger than me could act like my maiden aunt then I would throw my permissiveness straight at her. I was young too, and fortunately didn't get a custodial sentence.

The second occasion was Israel. This was worse because I had been cautioned not to get that Israeli stamp smacked down in my passport if I wanted more freedom to move. The question 'Are you married?' was not really the point. It was merely a way of detaining me long enough to follow it with 'Are you ashamed of Israel?'

These two incidents have probably been enough; flying into the Middle East where I suspect that by male preference I should be black shrouded, and better still locked up in case I compromise my modesty or inflame the passions of the immigration officer, is a journey enough to cause me to get out that narrow brass ring and wedge it onto my finger in order to pass unchallenged through the security system. Of course I do not intend to do this until absolutely necessary. I am not mad, and jamming a tiny band onto a fat finger too early will, I reason, cause my finger to swell up like a balloon 30,000 feet in the air. Thus the first requirement of landing in the UAE will be to get my finger amputated. I know it sounds unlikely but my mother came close to this after being stung by a bee in Belgium.

So dutifully, but intermittently, today I wear the wedding band, and wave my hand about a bit to show it off. And then, in Dubai passport queues, I realise that no-one is the slightest bit interested in me or the children, or my hand and its status. The passport control officer does not turn his gaze to us mere females to check that we look like our passport pictures. He only seeks to peer at Dig. He asks questions only of Dig. Only Dig matters.

Then we are all in, stamp stamp stamp, following meekly. So I pull off that painful wedding band and slip it into my pocket, resentful. All that hour's search for nothing. Sleep-deprived, five-hour flight, bolshy Grit contemplating the consequences of a Dubai jail should I chance as I pass the desk to chuck out a challenging, disdainful remark, like 'Did you know I'm married?'

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

In anticipation

Dig: Hurry up! We are late! Where is mummy?
Grit: Squirrel, stop that. Shark, let go of my leg. Tiger, put that down. Where is daddy?
Shark: Will there ever be something to eat?
Squirrel: Will there ever be something to drink?
Tiger: Are we there yet?

Ad infinitum.

Monday, 11 February 2008

I'm busy. Find something to do

And they did. Mostly in the bathroom.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Fish in the dark

The wheelie bags are stored under the eaves. Behind the toilet waste pipe. The one that's propped up with Travis The Invisible Band CD case. Not with the CD still in it, thank goodness. That would be inconvenient if we wanted to listen to Pipe Dreams.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Triplets kidnapped in Yemen

Yes. Grit, Dig, and the three little gritlets are all going to visit Yemen, so here's hoping the above turns out not to be the headline half-way down page 7 of the Independent next week. Sometime then, we will be disgorged from the relative comfort and safety of the UAE and tipped into a strange land, and hopefully not into the hands of a tribal fanatic half way up a mountainside holding an AK47 and a grudge.

We are as prepared as we can be. Once in Yemen, we're not planning on travelling about (much) thanks to the killing of the Belgian tourists recently. But between now and then, if we decide to get cold feet, and reckon a UNESCO World Heritage site can be found on the south of England anyway, then we could point, if not to the kidnappings, to the Yemeni tribal conflicts, and the 1997 Sanaa massacre (on the latter Wikipedia so helpfully supplies information) as good, sound reasons to stay at home.

But let's face it. What is there at home. Apart from relative peace, order, stability and a wage. Oh well. The opportunity's here. Let's grab it, go off, learn about life, and learn about ourselves. At the very least we can say 'Hey up, we needed to study Islamic culture, and pitching argumentative triplets into the middle of a muslim society seemed to be a good way to do it'. And at the worst we can say, 'Sorry about the diplomatic incident. We promise not to do it again'. (But we'll probably not say that in Arabic.)

Anyway, the next few days are all about managing a safe and efficient departure to the Middle East. Regular readers will know that Dig pushes off at short notice all around the world and this time, instead of being left alone and at home to have the back gate fall on me, or run the house, the business, the kids, and life into the ground, Grit, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger are all packing their toothbrushes and going with him.

On the minus side this family trek probably will mark the end of Dig's sojourns in Yemen and the surrounding countries. (Evidence: Dig used to get a regular invite to Windsor Great Park to be important in commas on the Queen's property, until one year the little grits turned up and ran around the estate dining rooms in red plastic wellington boots. Neither he, nor we, have been invited back since.)

So because I am busy packing and getting all upset because Squirrel has made a life-size model of a goose in the front room out of newspaper and distributed the clippings all over the floor, tables, sofa, TV and computer, for a few days on Grit's Day there might only be pictures. And then it will all go strangely quiet.

However, when we return I'll probably look at my handwritten diaries, notes and jottings and use them to fill in, retrospectively, all Grit's days with something, like what we ate for breakfast.

Please understand filling in something for everyday really is not to keep anyone informed about how triplets cope, pulled from a comfortable house in secular Smalltown and dropped down next to a camel on a mountain to explore what it means to be a Muslim child growing up in another part of the world. No, of course not. Unless there are author's rights to negotiate. No, maintaining an everyday chronicle is just to toil forward to the end of another year's diary blog in December 2008 when I can go PAH! I did it! A post for every day! HA HA!

For the moment I'll not write anymore, not about the fight in Tesco between the security staff and the robber, not about feeling sick after finishing off an enormous bowl of cherry brandy pie with chocolate sauce and cream, and not about finding a burned out car mysteriously appearing next to our own in the car park, all of which is the stuff of Grit's normal life. It will have to wait.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with this, from Squirrel.

Grit: Do you know, Squirrel, someone wrote a lovely comment on my blog the other day. It put me in a really good mood. And guess what? A mummy in a good mood just bought a pack of chocolate biscuits! Would you like one?
Squirrel: Can I take five?
Grit: Three is quite enough. Now, let's think about this. (Eager to teach a nice bit of vocabulary and some morals into the bargain.) Did you see how when someone was nice to me, that good deed sort of stayed there, didn't it, but it also changed. It became transformed. The good deed transformed into something else. It transformed into chocolate biscuits!
Squirrel: Are the chocolate biscuits a good deed from you to us?
Grit: Yes! Exactly! And now it's your turn. What could the chocolate biscuits transform into?
Squirrel: Poopy.

Friday, 8 February 2008

An appeal

Home education has hit the news in the UK again. And it's all very positive.

Oh dear.

Grit is making a public appeal now for all home edders to stop saying how marvellous home ed is. Just stop and think. You'll get everyone wanting to do it. And what will that mean? I am accustomed to marching into art galleries, science parks and museums. Term-time, these are usually empty apart from me, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger. Then once we're in, we can command the attention of the education officer just by asking. In the sea life centre at Weston-super-Mare we got five hours worth of fish talk. And compare that with a half-term holiday in Great Yarmouth. They made me queue! Queue! On the pavement! Once inside I could barely move. It was so traumatic I had to be led to a seat for the frail and elderly. Now come on all you home educators, can we just please all shut up about the freedoms, opportunities and joys and concentrate instead on the hard work, sacrifice and misery?

Just consider it is about PR management, to protect the truth from those who might abuse it. Spin doctors, that's what we need to be.

For example. Here I go off with Squirrel down the charity shop where she immediately goes face down in the 25p bucket. She comes up with a toy lizard. Now all us home educators will know that the educational opportunities are, quite frankly, enormous. We will scrutinise the lizard, decide whether it is a Furcifer gastrotaenia chameleon or a Basiliscus plumifrons. We will find out whether it lives in Madagascar or Melbourne. We will find out what it eats, where it lives and how it has babies. It will prompt a visit to a Natural History Museum and get us reading in the library, doing lizard maths, making lizard costumes and becoming reptile experts in general.

Well let's stop telling the nation that, please? No, home educator. Think about the queues. Let's tell the world that home ed is probably not worth the trouble. Tell everyone the sacrifices we have to make. Like how Grit just squandered good gin and drug cash on a plastic lizard that squeaks.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The great clothing fight

It is the day of the ice-skating lesson, and we are all getting ready to go. Tiger and Shark are in the car, quietly compliant, so something must go wrong yet. And it does. Squirrel comes downstairs dressed in her Barbie denim skirt with the loveheart pockets. The same skirt she wore for the horseriding lesson.

Now this Barbie skirt, (age 6-7) no longer allows leg circulating space sufficient to walk down the road properly, let alone sit astride a horse. Or ice skate, for I presume ice skating will require the pushing of one leg in front of the other. But in this offcut cloth of a thing that Squirrel wears, I may as well bandage her knees together and see how well she copes with that.

When I see the Barbie skirt descending the stairs, gingerly, its owner clinging onto the bannister, my heart sinks, because I know I am already guilty. I should, like a good and dutiful mother, have tip-toed to Squirrel's clothing store while she was occupied making a model dinosaur or trashing the bathroom, and I should have discreetly weeded away that offending circlet of Barbie denim with its loveheart pockets and its pointless pink frill. I should have then silently taken the rag outside, disposed of it swiftly by means of the scissors, and buried the remains. Mercy killing in this instance would not have been a hard thing to do. But I did not do these things. And now I am culpable by omission. I am a bad, neglectful mother.

And it gets worse. Because underneath the Barbie skirt with the loveheart pockets Squirrel is wearing two pairs of woolly tights. Not one pair, note, but two.

Now one pair of woolly tights on Squirrel eases themselves off her bum and down around her knees quicker than I can get to the Co-op. I know this to be true, because fifteen paces down the back lane there is Squirrel, dancing beside me, not holding my hand. At every third step she skips and grabs with both hands the elastic band of her leggings to hoist them back over her bum. Shortly we are dancing in time down the road; we need no music, just the rhythmic skip of one-two hoist up! one-two hoist up! one-two hoist up! And this, remember, is with one pair of leggings. I have never studied the coefficient of two pairs of leggings, one upon the other, in downshift drop, nor the velocity and direction with which two pairs of leggings can travel while on ice. In my rough estimation, and one glance, I estimate they could both be round her ankles before she reaches the front door.

At this point, mother to daughter eyes meet and I do not need words. 'What is it now?' Squirrel drawls out exaggerated syllables, facing me down with a cold hard stare and a fixed mouth, leaning over the bannister as if she were aged thirteen and I had caught of whiff of suspicious breath.

Dilemma. Do I reason, 'Now look here Squirrel, I really think you ought to reconsider what you are wearing and ask yourself 'Is this suitable for the ice?'' Or do I say 'Can you go upstairs and change because I think that outfit is not suitable. First of all you cannot slide in that skirt. And second, you will show your bum to everyone when you fall on it.' The first option is the one I would like to say if I think about it. The second is the one I do say when I don't think.

So I say the second.

Cue: hysterical wailing on the stairs, dramatic sinking to the treads, the clutching of the wooden banister, apparently now the only emotional support ever to have been offered in this damned House of Usher. Now I am not only culpable, I am stealing my daughter's independence away from her and probably emotionally torturing her for good measure. Because I say, matter of factly, 'Squirrel. I do not want you to wear that skirt and leggings combination for two reasons. First because I think it is too exposing. If your leggings fall down I will feel humiliated, and that's that. Second, it is not practical and you cannot skate in it.'

Squirrel wails some more. I hold out. I say the instructor will send you off the ice. I point my finger. I make the hoisting gesture. I put my hands on my hips. I say I am protecting you. And I am protecting me. I say what would people think of me if I let you slide around in minus 5 degrees with a baboon's bum following you? What will happen then? Where are the police? Shall I call Social Services now and get it over with?

And, by degrees, I get my way. Squirrel turns and flees up the stairs, screaming. And changes into another, wider skirt with footless leggings that are securely elasticated and modestly proportioned.

Of course her spirit is probably crushed, or seething quietly, dark and dangerously waiting until she is aged sixteen and can get unsupervised into Top Shop. And then I will have my comeuppance, and she her revenge.

Meanwhile, the Barbie skirt is under the frog pond.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Where to go next?

Bored of my own life, empty of beer and fatigued by small people who cuss at me and kick doors, I have been creeping round the blogs out there, or at least the ones that the server in the cupboard under the stairs can manage to flash out to the open window on my desk before an impatient click finger sets about zapping them off into cyberspace.

The ones where I've lingered, I've stayed to peer at them, like an old woman twitching lace curtains, wondering why. Mostly, why he's wearing a hat like that, and haven't I seen her creeping around the comments before, armed with a handbag and an innuendo? Others I've stayed to read a lot, and more, and laughed, and decided that really I should get that blogroll up at the side of the screen, and one day I'll learn, and that would be a proper way of saying thank you, I enjoyed the picture of grandma smashed on liquorice allsorts and baby Flora balancing a racoon on her head at only nine months. And a ferret at eleven.

And I can't help feeling that by comparison this blog is really very, very ordinary. Complaining daily about men who drive lorries or squirrels who kick doors is really very, very tedious. Even to me.

So I have made a list of the directions blogs must go in to hit the super big league. I would like to consider that Grit's Day itself might be a work of such evolution. I may have only about 25 years left.

1. Sex. Oh dear. I am at a disadvantage, since sex does not feature very much in the land of Grit. Hardly ever. Hmmm. OK then, I could spill the beans on quantities, say 500, both sexes and some animals. That sounds admirable. And no-one's ever going to check, so I might just get away with that. Or I could do something along the style of Emin's tent and offer up my mum the night my dad died, and the 29 members of class 3C with whom, in 1974, I went on a trip to a field in the middle of Derbyshire: we all slept in a hut and I was sick.

2. Celebrity. I have fames to narrate. I was once a model. I know it was for Outspan oranges in the middle of the 1980s when the tutting middle classes were boycotting oranges and just about everything else from South Africa, but we celebrities have to start somewhere. I was actually a model for some 12 minutes. I was photographed in silhouette alongside the junior designer pushing a twelve foot orange up Dunstable Downs. I worried about how big my bum might look throughout the experience, but decided I had not quite the clout yet in my modelling career to demand a fitness trainer specially for rears. Sadly, I suspected my modelling career was coming to nought when the junior designer was picked to be the traffic warden's legs. I suspect there was an implicit judgement made against me due to fat in the ankle department.

3. Book deals. Of all and any variety. Blogs to books; books to blogs; newspaper columns; flies on the walls; insider diaries; blockbusters; drivel. I could do well here. I once persuaded an agent to take on some gritty short stories. Within three weeks she collapsed with Crohn's disease and went to live at the door of death. I can only reflect it is in the way of the Grit curse that follows me about and stops me from winning the lottery. Or in fact, ever buying a ticket.

4. Princess Diana, or any other royalty. Sadly, I'm not going to get very far on this one either, never having met anyone remotely royal. Melvyn Bragg does not count. Dig did once pick a fight with the Duke of Edinburgh, but properly that is his story and not mine. I could try to steal it and claim it for my own. But I am not sure it will keep me in comments past the day.

5. Food. There are some excellent recipes out there for chocolate cake don't you think? And noodles, and tofu and potatoes and rice and all sorts. I could get quite hungry just thinking about it. I might make Grit's diary into a sort of food blog. After all, I am a woman who has eaten a piranha fish freshly caught on the Amazon river by dangling a bit of chicken over the side of a dug-out canoe. I know that these days Grit's blog might be in danger of being a diary of how to cook pasta in one way with tomato sauce from a packet or a tin, but it could be the start of a whole new career.

Or I could just go on, making an endless chronicle of the everyday.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Little things

The day started well. It really did. Determined to put in an hour's work before Tiger starts slamming the Cheerio box around, I get up extra early and come and sit quiet in the kitchen with hot coffee for company. And then I spoil it all by staring out the window for forty minutes wondering whether squirrels crack open hazelnuts by banging them on the roof at midnight. And then decide the rat's back. Last time it cost a discreet visit from the rat catcher and eighty quid with promises of mortality. I never was convinced.

Well after that it got worse, because Squirrel - the daughter, not the small furry animal - comes banging downstairs in a really bad mood. And I mean bad. She's kicking the kitchen door and yelling at the top of her voice because of I don't know what. I do heavy duty turning away at this sort of terrorist attack, which usually makes it worse, so I've been trying to stop it, and simply ask 'What's wrong?' which works a lot better with Squirrel than anything else.

Don't you hate it when your own kids start saying things back to you that you've said to them? So Squirrel starts off, 'Mummy! You're not listening! What do you keep in your ears? Wax?' At which point I say that's not the proper way to talk to someone who's concerned, so I get a load more. 'You're making me upset! How many times have I told you that! Don't speak to me like that! I'm leaving this room!' I may as well just set a tape recording going and play it back to myself as I put my head in my hands and wait until she finishes by slamming the kitchen door behind her and causing a picture of a flower to drop off its nail in the front room.

I could cry of course, with the locked-in frustration and failure of everything already today, but I won't because at this point I spill coffee over the table and have to mop that up instead. Then by the time I've not got the shower to work again we're late and it's time to get in the car to drive to art with Hitler. Dig, who has been working until 3am again, has been woken up by Squirrel's slamming and put her under threat of grounding if she opens her mouth, so she's sitting on the stairs, waiting for me to rush around shouting about the lost keys with a mouth that looks like it's been fixed with superglue.

At least Squirrel's quiet, which is more than Grit can manage as this journey starts. I put up a constant stream of under-the-breath, heart-beating nervous abuse at the yellow truck that's a hair's breadth away from the rear bumper. For five miles down the A-road the only thing I can see in my rear view mirror are the words 'Number one for service'. Eventually in semi-panic I give in and pull over hard on the verge so Number one can roar past, with a blast from his horn. Squirrel breaks silence at last with a torrent of abuse pouring out at Tiger's leg which is now in her space, while Shark starts to slap her knees and complain about the journey not being what she's used to and if we don't hurry up, Hitler will have started and it will be all my fault.

Right now I feel like banging my head on the steering wheel, but it's one of those days when the horn would jam on and I'd drive the last ten miles with a mobile siren providing a early warning system for our late arrival. Either that or the air bag will explode and suffocate me. This memory always stops me. Two years ago when we had to use taxis to get everywhere after the car was smashed up by kidnappers the first taxi driver told me that one day as he was taking in a reluctant school refuser, his air bag exploded and knocked out two front teeth. The child then asked, 'Is that normal?'. It is in Grit's day matey I think, so today I'll just lean my head against the window for a moment and try not to sob.

By the time I get Tiger, Shark and Squirrel into art, late, with apologies, I drive off to Sainsbury's to buy breakfast, having recalled that I missed it this morning thanks to squirrels of both sorts and a mouth ulcer of the singular variety.

By the time I park the car I see I'm out of petrol again and full of misery and despair. Why does it all go wrong? I think. Why do we seem to have to struggle so much to do ordinary things? Why can't things just go easy for a day or two when we can be on time, dressed properly, fed, and the car keys and Grit's glasses be in the rightful places and everything goes smoothly and nothing goes wrong?

Just at this moment I have no inner resources to call on and steel me up. And then my mobile rings. I see it's Dig. Momentarily my heart leaps. Perhaps he's calling with good news. Perhaps he'll say Aunty Dee just won the lottery syndicate from work so tonight it's Chinese take-aways all round. Perhaps he'll say that someone far away just offered a two-year contract with family relocation to Melbourne for summer and holidays in Goa. Perhaps he's just calling to say he loves me and is thinking of me.

No. Dig says that Customs and Excise have called. We must be cooking the books and false accounting in the snatches of seconds we get between running the business from the flat next door and home educating triplets because C&E are sending round a VAT inspector at the earliest opportunity.

And he forgot to say he loved me.

Monday, 4 February 2008


6.30am Wake up with a headache over one eye.

8.00am Realise there is no milk for Tiger's cereal. Decide to walk briskly to Co-op. Recall watching 10 mins of Wife swap on TV last night - the bit where Wife A informs Child B (not hers) that cow's milk is half pus. Buy goats milk instead. Get home. Feel sick. Scrutinise milk order to see if milkman can deliver goat's milk. (No.)

10.10am Remember that new car is due in garage for 1500 mile check at 10. Fortunately Tiger is dressed. Bundle her in car sharpish. Have discovered pain in mouth is large ulcer. Still feeling sick.

10.13 On opening the car door, I spy a beefcake-sort of man with a windbeaten face and a lumberjack shirt opened to reveal a reddened chest and a vest. He's also wearing an incongruous woolly hat, which he probably thinks he can get away with. Beefcake man looks at me with a sort of 'Oi' expression about his face, and stutters ' Is ... ' Unfortunately he can manage only that, as if lost for words at the sight of a non-made-up late Grit with a queasy stomach, headache over one eye, and a swollen mouth ulcer. Grit stares. Beefcake man stares back. 'Is ... er ... in?' he tries again, one thumb raised to the house. 'Who?' asks Grit. I recognise Beefcake man now. And my question is not unreasonable. Beefcake man could be here to meet Dodger, the owner of the middle flat who has recently been making free with our insurance and our maintenance budgets. And that's when I recognise Mr Beefcake. He is the roofer who has seen my underwear.

At this point I must pause to tell this glamorous tale. It might show how my life may be so easily compared to that of Kate Moss.

The other day, Dodger, who owns the middle flat that we don't live in, appeared at the door with Roofer man while Dig was in the shower. Apparently, says Dodger over the intercom, the best way to the back roof is through our kitchen window in our top flat. That way, Roofer man doesn't have to bother getting out the ladder. Dig, a kind hearted person who wants to be nice to everyone and is blind to mess, throws some clothes on and lets in Dodger and Roofer man through our top flat. (Oh dear. They are our bedrooms.)

At this point, Grit is not here. If she was here, she would have said No. Make an appointment and come back later. I have left old underwear all over the floor (being my bedroom after all) and today is also the day I am doing a spot of clothes organising, so have tipped the entire contents of the wardrobe over every surface. How messier can it get? Oh yes, I remember, there's a pack of sanitary towels perched on pile 7, a month worth's of newspapers by the door, toys all over the flat and a baking tray in the sink soaking off some fish skin.

But Grit is not there. And Dig lets in Dodger and Roofer man, who stagger through the H-bombed flat, probably thinking choice descriptive words for the inhabitants while they're about it. Roofer man climbs through the kitchen window to see the roof at the back of the house, incidentally leaving the window open all day while the heating is on. But he probably thinks jolly good because it saves getting out the ladder.

When Grit returns home after being out with her glamour associates, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger down the local mud spot where they have been engaged in mud education, she finds Roofer man has been standing on her knickers and probably scrutinising her bra hanging from the ironing board. (Yes, the bra I got for £1.50 down the charity shop, because I am mean and poor.)

And here he is again, 10.14am, no appointment, and not even having the courtesy to know the name of the sad unfortunate whose flat he wants to stride through and climb out the kitchen window to save getting out the ladder. Worse, he makes the fatal mistake of offering, in his mocking 'I'm a roofer me' tone, 'Wot? don't you know the name of your own husband?'

Grit probably does not fit very neatly into Roofer man's idea of the type of young lady who titters at his jokes. She does not wear short skirts. Or make up. And neither is she in awe of his vest or grateful for his roofing services. I am a woman with a headache over one eye and a mouth ulcer, and this man has stood on my knickers. Consequently, I would like to say 'You ***ing ****er ****hole ****er of a ****ing git'. But I do not. I am restrained. I do disdain. I say, 'Yes, I do know the name of my own husband' then get in the car to drive off.

But as I see him going to the house I reconsider, thinking just how nice Dig was last time and how I wasn't there. Well this time I am here. I leap out of the car and chase Roofer man up the path, stick my head round the lobby door and upset everyone by demanding he goes round the back and gets the ladder out.

11.10am. At the garage, I am told by someone who looks like they should work in the perfume section of John Lewis that the car undertray is broken. I have never heard of an undertray. But it is broken. And apparently it is not under warranty. It is our fault. Possibly because we have been throwing stones at it or driving over speed bumps.

11.20am. Return to find Dig putting down the phone. He says Dodger has complained because Roofer man's been on the phone complaining about how Grit was rude, and if we want him to do the roof it'll cost us three thousand pounds because he has to get the scaffolding out.

12.00 Thank goodness there is only the afternoon and evening left.

Sunday, 3 February 2008


It is 6 o'clock in the winter evening. And here we are, blundering about the dark, bitten by the wind, veering by the trees in the creeping wood, and sliding down a hill looking for a Japanese bean throwing festival.

Dig says it is unlikely, a wet cold night in the middle of nowhere, near a lake. In fact he says this more than once since parking the car in the dogger's layby on the curving lane into the wood, where there is already a Vauxhall parked, engine running, steaming inside, and six empty beer bottles lined up behind the boot.

I say 'Pah! It's here! Somewhere! We just have to find it! I read it in the parks listings! And it's not even April 1st!'

Clenching my teeth and wrapping the woollen blanket I've brought just a little tighter around my shoulders I shout 'Have faith!' to the wind and slide over the grassy field into the darkness, following the disappearing footsteps of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger; catching my bearings with the lapping waves of the emerging lake and the laughing quack quack quack as a duck peddles off the lake at speed.

After five minutes we stumble onto the path by the lake and Grit eye-spies a Japanese family staring up into the black starless sky. Ha! Success! Looking for beans! Grit is jubilant. 'Of course it's around here somewhere' I cry, 'if this lovely young couple have dragged a toddler out in this weather with ne'er a hint of concern about Social Services or the police! Have faith!'

And what does Grit find? That the young Japanese family have no idea where the bean throwing festival is and have been wandering around looking for it for half an hour. 'There!' shouts Grit, truimphant. 'Of course it's here! Somewhere. We've just got to look for it. Let faith be our guide!'

And there, sure enough, shining out of the field in the darkness, are the headlights of a Toyota Corolla. And look! Fifty-odd more cars in a car park outside the Buddhist temple! 'And what did I tell you?' I declare to Dig. 'I told you to follow that Nissan!' Oh, you of little faith, Dig. We've parked in the wrong car park! We've parked in the one over the hill! And we've had to come through the dark, dark wood where bears growl and strangers prowl, and now look! We could have driven to the front door, parked next to the gong banger and been in without getting our feet wet! Foolish, unbelieving Dig!

Once inside, Grit's faith redoubles, in bucketfulls, when she finds the Buddhists are all lovely again, smiling at the red-nosed Squirrel, Tiger and Shark and making everyone sit cross-legged at low tables and providing hot soup, cold sandwiches and sweet cake, even though no-one was expecting it and only had to do a little chanting to get it.

Good spirit in! Bad spirit out!

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Grit goes alone

I am sticking with this Independent no diet, even though it means shrugging yourself off the sofa, moving out of your comfort zone, and shifting your legs down the road in a quick march brisk walk.

So at 7.30 am, lured by the thought of a shapely behind that could be mine if only I would move it, I manage to lever myself out of bed, reluctantly drape myself all around with a brown skirt and not the black jeans covered in yesterday's clay, and then, smartly dressed for a Grit on a Saturday morning at 9.30, get in the car and drive to Northampton.

Now I know this comes as a bit of a shock to Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, who are used to the comfort zone of having a mamma in scruffy black jeans routinely squeeze 6 feet into 3 pairs of tennis shoes and arrange them in a line to cross the road to the courts at 9.59 for the lesson which starts at 10. Yes, we live that close, and yes, it is bloody marvellous, because on winter Saturday mornings I can still be wearing pyjamas under my coat and holding a cup of coffee in a spot of weekend comfort zoning.

But not today. I'm uncertain about going, about navigating the wilds of Northampton without small fingers to fasten onto, but I'm determined. I think Grit's imminent disappearance takes Dig by surprise too, as I stare at his bare feet in the kitchen, while jangling keys and saying 'I'm going to Northampton. I don't know when I'll be back. Look after the children. Tennis at 10'.

And all this because I am determined to get out of my comfort zone and into Northampton where there is an archaeologists outing. I know I am not an archaeologist, but it doesn't stop me going to their meetings. In fact I broke through that particular comfort zone a couple of years ago when, resenting the imposition of a long-term prison sentence while Dig wandered again about the Middle East, and despairing that I would ever get out of the house alone before the year 2010, I spotted the local archaeology society skulking about the web and joined on the spot.

Come to think of it, I probably challenge their comfort zones too, but now I reckon that is a good thing. I used to think Thank God! The archaeology meeting! It's an excuse to escape the house once a month on a Mondays between 7.30pm and 9pm and not be accompanied by small people minding and criticising and arguing over every decision and footfall. Thank goodness I can walk down a road without glancing nervously behind me to see if anyone needs their hand holding. Marvellous to be free of the terrorist rages that can strike a seven-year old who has not seen the colour green first that morning, so making it a Bad Day when Bad Things must happen.

So Grit is free. And transformed. She drives to Northampton with no one squealing. She parks the car with no one arguing, and pays the machine without worrying about the order the coins go in. Then she sets off with all the walk-about striding energy of a single woman wearing a skirt, who has no one's feet but her own to take charge of. She walks briskly and purposefully to the museum, thinking this is once how she walked everywhere in any urban townscape, and into the museum she strides. This is a museum we know quite well, and have visited over the years, and this is probably the first time Grit has visited it alone.

Mature enough not to hang around in doorways, peeping out behind sculptures to see if her party has arrived, she directs herself straight to the top floor and the archaeological finds, reasoning this is where a party of archaeologists are bound to congregate. And sure enough, they're here. No messing. No weeping on the stairs because someone else put their foot on them first, no complaining about the stairs, no arguing on Level 1 or shouting down the stairs to someone who won't come up them. What's more, I go straight past the toilets, so there's no lingering wait here - two toilets and three children - and no need to play with the hot tap for ten minutes before deciding it really is too hot, let's try the cold, then filling the basin with water and pretending our fingers are fish.

Grit's party of archaeologists shift slightly out of their comfort zone to speak in words of slow syllables to a member of the general public who won't go away. Throughout, Grit has a wonderfully rewarding time, liberated from interruptions and arguments or excited pictures of dolphins and horses, and is able to talk in a mature and dignified way. Not once do any of the archeologists lie down on the floor and cry. None squeal loudly or deliberately lean against the glass to block the view of someone else. Neither does anyone lift up Grit's skirt in what is fast becoming a very irritating and undignified game, even if Grit inadvertently did start it the other day to see if Squirrel was wearing any knickers.

After a couple of hours Grit steps out of the museum, full of enthusiasm for archaeology and vowing to become one in a different life, and even perhaps stop Northampton from falling into the hideous mess that it has become. Still liberated, with an hour left on the parking ticket, I then take advantage of freedom, and buy a new outfit too. Hey ho, with this amount of freedom, I might just fantasise about hiring a nanny and staying out late.

But, as if independence is all too much, I spoil it at the very end in the electrical department of Beatties. I pause to consider Shark's hungry tummy. Dutifully, I buy a slow cooker for the days we're out at the safari park, and there's no time to do the dishes from breakfast before embarking on preparing tea.

And when I get home, I shall probably regretfully change out of the skirt too.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Grit takes control

Enough of this Slough of Despond.

I have marched back upstairs, snatched that disgusting acrylic jumper by the baggy neck, wrestled it to the kitchen table and cut off both its arms with a pair of five-inch scissors. There. Grit stands triumphant, splattered in fibrous black threads and declares, on behalf of Grit and all womankind, I shall not be bullied, pushed around and insulted by an old rag of a fabric whose sole pleasure in life has been to wrap itself around me like a curse.

And if anyone asks about the whereabouts of the ruddy thing, I shall blame it on February.