Thursday, 30 April 2009

Plastic Fantastic

One of the things about towing kids around the world with you - let's not talk right now about pain, blood, shit, tears, broken souls - is the wondrous places they can take you to. Places you would avoid like the plague if you could only choose for yourself what type of experience to have and need not consider the fragile developing mind sets and world views of three bolshy kids with an unhealthy interest in pink cuddly toys and fish.

Places like Ocean Park.

Ocean Park is Hong Kong's version of Disneyworld. It is the place where all the molten bits of glowing Chinese plastic, all the singing, dancing, moving junk of hideous toys are brought together, heaped up, and dumped in a pile on a hillside like someone screaming an almighty blasphemy against anything living and natural.


Strangely - and there is no accounting for this - it is also the place where Hong Kong worships its pandas, alligators, sealions, cute furry animals with big eyes, thousands of variety of goldfish, and the dolphins, who have their very own theatrical showtime. No-one eats them. And that is good.



This amusement/marine theme park is one place I would never normally go within 500 miles of, except of course there are Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to attend to, and they pull me into this place like there is a magnetic attachment involved, the mechanism for which I have yet to discover.

Then once you are inside you have to think to yourself, if you have kids, that it is the most wonderful thing to see your little kidlet faces light up with delight. Perhaps with the expectation of being plunged into a waterfall while strapped into a plastic raft, or with the excitement of seeing a panda, and of watching a dolphin ping a ball with its nose. Really, it should be a mark of your parental devotion if you can tolerate being lifted miles up into the air on the world's second largest outdoor escalator, all in the name of amusement. I should have medals. I certainly have scars.


OK, I admit. I did sort of fall in love with the alligator.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Hong Kong Science

I am sure that if the little pieces of girl, Shark, Squirrel, Tiger, attended school in England, and we had pleaded for special dispensation to be released from that commitment to bring them with us to Hong Kong, when we returned to the UK an adult from their school world would say, with meaning, Tell me, what did you learn in Hong Kong?

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger would whitter on about doors and parks and long necked turtles and chopsticks and Buddhists who buy fish swimming in tanks outside restaurants, then pop round the corner and release those slippery saved prisoners into the harbour, but the squint-eyed fellow peering at them would say again, Yes, yes, but what did you LEARN?

And that school tuned adult would mean, of course, What reading, writing, arithmetic, what school work did you do?

Well despite the fish freeing Buddhists, and I am ashamed to admit it, but a small part of my brain squeaks that too. But what are we learning?

There is only one cure to relieve this oldschool pressure in my head and that is to take Shark, Squirrel and Tiger to the Hong Kong Science Museum.

Science is good. Science is learning. It has things like electromagneticsoundwavecompression. After today I can claim our schoolwork is all done and dusted. Tomorrow we can go stare at stars and eat lotus on Lamma Island beach.

So here we are, visiting the Hong Kong Science Museum. I can scrounge lessons in windpatternisobarspressure. Because science crosses all borders. And when Mr Squeers stares disapprovingly down at us, I can prod Shark, Squirrel and Tiger into action with leveragesublimationmolecule.

But fifteen minutes in, I discover science is not universal at all. It is quite local. The Hong Kong Science Museum has a large section of one floor given over entirely to horrible ways to fall over and die on a building site.

In Hong Kong, building a skyscraper, knocking it down, building a new one, taller, smarter, shinier, more marble, more glass, more glitz, more ambitious, is a favourite pastime. Hong Kong island edges closer each year to Kowloon mainland. More land is reclaimed, the working harbourfront swells, the skyscrapers rise, the sea is swept away. Don't bring fondness. The 1950s Star ferry pier with its modernist clock tower was blasted away in 2006 to make way for a swanky line of terminals, poking their noses further into the water. And if last year your business spent several million dollars securing prime harbour front space, consider it money well spent on the ad budget, because you'll be outshone next year by a new shoreline development, in progress now. Everyone in Hong Kong will be touched at some point by the construction industry. So here, in the Science Museum, there is a large section devoted to different ways of dying in building site accidents.

But Hong Kong is prepared. Meet Dr Safe and his talking chemicals. There is Uncle Flammable, Auntie Irritant, Brother Corrosive, Harmful Junior and Little Toxic. Just like a real family. I might adopt them as blognames. The animated chemicals describe several horrible ways to be poisoned, mutilated, lose hands and set yourself on fire thanks to careless practices on the building site. And if you are not warned enough, here comes Uncle Explosive with his very short fuse to blow everyone up.

But no! Because Dr Safe with his Material Safety Data Sheets talks reasonably to the hazardous chemicals, we need not lose our hands in building site accidents ever again. Are you unconvinced? Glance at the exhibit next door of the foolish migrant worker plunging to his death after falling from an unfinished building. Take that as a limbering up exercise for scanning the Occupational Disease Databank to realise how you will die painfully and slowly in your job unless you take action now. Then at least you might have enough life left in you to head upstairs for your near-death experience with crash test dummies slamming into trucks and losing limbs in the Automotive Technology Gallery.

But science is universal, right? Hong Kong is just strangely driven in its obsession with falling over.

And the fact that everyone on the streets today looks like they are extras in a medical drama, striding about walkways wearing face masks and surgical gowns, merely tells us the responsible population is taking correct and proper preventative action over swine flu.

Which sort of makes it ironic that as we emerge into the Medical Sciences Gallery the first game we can play is how to extract medicine from a pig.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Sometimes it is better to travel than to arrive

So I decided to post only for today the news that we finally made it to Sha Tin, to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

I'd like to say we finally made it because we idly strolled along Hong Kong streets looking over the good fortune shops selling lucky money and happy plastic tat for kids on festival days. Or perhaps we finally made it because we lingered with jasmine tea back at the restaurant where the gritlets had seven minutes to learn how to use chopsticks last Thursday, or starve to death. Or perhaps we finally made it to Sha Tin because we took up that offer of the foot massage and had our fortunes told and found them delightful.

Well it was none of those finally made it reasons. Sha Tin is way over there, up north in the New Territories. It may be part of Hong Kong but it is miles away from the frenetic business of the Island or the shiny shops of Kowloon. A clean new residential town, it spreads over a spacious seat from which the foothills around it rise, evoking those beautiful soaring mountains reaching beyond the clouds, hills of China.

Given its setting, it would be easy to be distracted. These mountain names are said to us, but I forget already. They blend together like poetry fragments, and this is, I think, how Chinese translates into English. The hills are the higher wisdom or the wandering dragons or the jasmine princess. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, we are told, are similarly lost in counting nouns and become in Chinese pieces of girl, like pieces of gold, dragon daughters and sister of heaven.

So we finally made it because I may have become lost in Sha Tin, lured away by Chinese-English, which is a gentle antidote to the busy new town plaza, shopping mall, intersections, road junctions and walkways where we become confusingly lost by passageways held up in the air, from which we can't get out and back down to the ground. And when we do, there is the beautiful park, luring us on with shades and long necked turtles posing for us on the rocks by the garden pathways.

But we finally made it, really, thanks to the slow hours threading our way across the Island, over the water, through Kowloon, into the green hills of the New Territories, by tram, on foot, by overground, underground.

And when we arrive, when we finally make it, the museum at Sha Tin is huge. There are permanent collections of Chinese expressive arts. There is the Children's Discovery Gallery, with Life in a Village and Undersea Garden. Perfect for pieces of girl. Indeed, the museum deserves our special attention for several hours. The education to be had is wonderful. Here is a rich and splendid resource on all painting, history, arts, Chinese life, culture, all Hong Kong.

And when we did get there, when we finally made it, do you know that it is always closed on Tuesdays?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Three cheers to BLOGGER!

Because this is the day that Grit and the Gritlets jump in a taxi and zoom away on the wide roads, over the cityscape of downtown Hong Kong, past the spiralling skyscrapers, in and out of the bright highway tunnels blasted through the hills, and off into the cool green spaces of the elegant expat houses, where we finally disgorge from that taxi and say hello, face to face, hand to hand, to Wife in Hong Kong.

How cool is that? Is that 100% COOL?

This is amazing to Grit. Because without Blogger, Grit and Wife in Hong Kong would never ordinarily meet. We inhabit different worlds. Grit is a beat up sandal wearing old hippie who lives on a planet populated by anarchists, home educators, feral kids and mutants. Wife in Hong Kong floats about in gracious surroundings and rubs shoulders with the Dior dripping glitterati whose cultivated kids eat canapes.

How far apart can you get? Yet here with Wife in Hong Kong I can drink a cup of tea and feel human again. And we have Blogger to thank for this meeting of otherworlds. Blogger has become this curious necessary new strand of cyber life. And clearly, blogging unites the most diverse of people.

But just for today, we're not confined to cyberspace. Strange, most strange of all, even though there are worlds we all inhabit so far apart, we share common paths; we cope with families, upheavals, childhoods, traumas, marriages, deaths, partings, celebrations. Our internets cross and for a few hours we sip tea and discuss life after motherhood because like all bloggers who slip in and out of each other's footsteps, we understand each other when we have met ten minutes before.

Well of course now all you really want to know is whether Wife in Hong Kong dyes her hair orange, ties her children to the air conditioning units or wipes her nose on her sleeve, like Grit.

Well OK then, Wife in Hong Kong is not only lovely, she is just as thoughtful and expressive as you can imagine from her blog, except more beautiful and glamorous with it. So go over to her place, wander about with her footsteps and give her a big cyberhug, because at this point, she deserves it. And then don't forget to invite her over to yours.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Just when everything made sense

He is not mad. That is normal.

This is the fifth time I've whispered that to Tiger and we're only two blocks down.

It's Sunday, and everyone's feet hurt from pounding those hard Hong Kong pavements, so today we're playing safe and taking the children to experience life in one of the many local parks.

Although Hong Kong is in many ways an enclave from China, it is very much a part of China too. The people here behave much as I have seen them behave in other parks in other towns and cities of China. And China can do parks in a big way. They can be large communal spaces, paved, marshalled, arranged, concreted, planted, with children's play areas, designated photo stops, public injunctions and signs not to spit, park bicycles, play ball games, skateboard, set up market stalls. They can contain kitch items – a giant panda composed of plastic flowers – but they can contain practical meeting spaces, elegant marble features, streams, stone bridges, nectar rich flowers and fluttering butterflies.

But above all, they are public: places to be seen in, places to play board games, places to watch others, to do the things that a small room does not allow, places to take your pet bird, along with its little bamboo cage, and hang it in the tree to sing with all the other birds and wonder at flying.

Watching all the behaviours here today I've made it a goal to find a history of the Chinese park. I am sure it is a social history, and one inextricably linked to change, to the Cultural Revolution, to family life, to city dwelling, the new wave of capitalism, to the changes happening round us all the time. The park is China in microcosm.

So when Tiger sees the middle aged man standing solemnly in front of a traffic cone, his arms outstretched, as if he is cuddling a big bear, his eyes closed, swaying slightly, concentrating, breathing deeply, her first reaction is to look away; to ignore him, because that is what we do. He might be mad, possibly dangerous, he might conjure the bear to life and set about us, screaming. But I tell her to look back, because his shoes lay discarded, and on both his feet, tied firmly round the ankles, are two plastic bags.

Then, of course, everything makes sense. He is standing on walking stones – raised pebbles, fierce projectiles of stone as hard as bullets, and they have been made wet by the recent shower. Sensibly he is keeping his feet dry with the plastic bags while he conducts his daily exercises to strengthen his muscles, cause good energy flow, massage his feet, concentrate his mind, focus on the here and now and go home refreshed, probably living a longer, healthier life than me and mine.

This moment, realising that round here everything is normal, tells me why I love to travel, and what a special time it is to share with Tiger, Squirrel and Shark. I tell Tiger that wherever we go we might often think that folks round here must be mad, or dangerous, or scary, or strange. But if we take the time to pause, observe, think, talk it through, work things out, then we might find that everything is normal. And more, it might give us a moment to think about our own lives and how we live, and how we might do things differently, or the same.

Yes, says Squirrel. Because if he came to England, he would find that we put doors all over the place.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Starting down, ending up

We wake to a deep grey sky, booming thunder and flashing lightening. A storm is spreading over the harbour, and we watch it coming. It is spring in subtropical Hong Kong, and the weather, we are learning, can change hourly from humid and warm, to wet and warm.

From our safe air conditioned view, thirty floors skyward, the children watch the storm. Squirrel says she likes watching the rain fall down into the mist below, and it is fun. She doesn't yet know about summer. A subtropical summer brings the oppressive humidity that can weigh down heavy on our shoulders and exhaust our energy. It brings the punishing typhoons which would hurl pellets of rain beating on our heads like fists if we dared step out to the flooding streets. It's not fair at this moment to ask Squirrel if she'd like to live here longer. In springtime Hong Kong, we are getting off lightly.

As the rain hammers against the wide windows of our flat, and we all stand to watch the harbour below take a beating from the rain, now I begin to appreciate the Hong Kong obsession with falling over. Wherever we have walked in the last few days on this northern strip of Hong Kong Island we have seen the same public sign: a little person falling over, a sparky set of lines drawn between the floor and their bottom. Along with the picture, a public injunction to be careful on slippy floors and wet surfaces. The sparky bottom could happen to us they say, and then we'll be sorry. But we can't say we weren't warned. We have laughed about this public sign. As I imagine those treacherous streets and marble stairways, I silently promise not to laugh.

Then the morning drags on. Dig leaves for a quick meeting with Jaz. That means three hours alone, but in this weather I'm not inclined to start a street tour. After half an hour, the fun of watching the rain subsides, although the rain beats on. After an hour, I'm feeling the pressure of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, locked in a flat thirty floors up, complaining that they can't go swimming.

After two hours the flat is looking a lot smaller than it did when we arrived. It is also looking trashed. Papers, crayons and clothing are strewn over the floor. I would take recourse to comfort eating, but now there is nothing from our initial supermarket shop apart from a mountain of foul tasting seaweed that Shark is crunching through, and a pack of butter. Neither seems like a viable solution. Give it another fifteen minutes and both will be a godsend. And as for Shark eating those revolting strips of seaweed, tonight I am checking her for fins.

Soon there is only one solution. The TV. We stare blankly at Cantonese language cartoons. I announce it is time well spent because this is a lesson, and will be useful should we need to learn Cantonese. Then Squirrel settles down to write her diary, Shark reads, and Tiger plays with a small pack of cards, donated by an airline, should we wish to teach our children poker in anticipation of a visit to the gambling dens of Macau.

When Dig returns, the day seems to turn. The weather clears, the humidity lifts, the mood lightens, we all become jovial, and we look ahead to escaping the flat and taking the children to the zoo and botanical gardens in the central area.

We're determined to use local transport, so we're avoiding taxis as much as possible. This means tram, footbridges and, in Hong Kong, the mid levels escalators. I have never been in any other city in the world which eschews streets in place of escalators. In Hong Kong at least I can see the need for it, because I do not fancy the thousands of steps up the vertical urban mountainside. And it's something to be proud of. We are welcomed to the Mid Level Escalator Alley like it might be the triumphal arch through to a passage of honour.

The zoological and botanical gardens are a short walk from the escalators. They were set up in 1871, probably for the colonial dwelling Victorians to think fondly of Kew. They must have wandered about the globe with saplings and shovels. They have done a particularly fine job here, although some of the trees are sited on a mountainside slope of a 45 degree angle. Some of the trees are rather helpfully now held in place with a ton of concrete.

Squirrel, Tiger and Shark run up the paths and think it all tremendous fun, finding this vertical garden in a vertical city. So does daddy Dig, mostly because for this zoo there is no entrance charge, so looking at a gibbon is free, and possibly makes up for Grit's en route expensive sandwich, which at a discounted $30 sent daddy Dig's face crumbling in pain. 7/11 do sandwiches for $9 he says. Yes Dig, they do. But they are crap, whereas mine was delicious.

He is not exactly in a position to talk, let's face it. Because when we have oohed and aahed at gibbons, lemurs and raccoons, Dig says now he would like to go souvenir hunting for Shark, who has pocket money to burn. He drags us all to CAC. I choose that verb wisely. Tiger's feet are putting up a shout again once she is removed from the gibbons and the playground, and Squirrel is drawing up a list of complaints, so after another hour beating through the footbridges above the roads, no-one's walking willingly. Squirrel says she won't forgive daddy for taking the steps yesterday when she could see the escalator and he is supposed to be the grown up and what is the point of a blind grown up leading everyone around Hong Kong? After another hour of pounding pavements looking for CAC, Tiger is all for mounting a rebellion and lying down. Shark says she wishes Hong Kong was flat. I am gracious, and don't say anything. Call me diplomatic.

Eventually, when the sky is dark and the skyscrapers bursting out thousands of lights we find the place Dig's looking for. CAC. That's Chinese Arts and Crafts, and it is located in one upmarket shopping mall, the Pacific Place.

Imagine smoked mirrors, shining glass, the click of Blahniks on marble floors, a pianist rippling through gentle notes in brilliantly lit halls. Chanel and Marc Jacobs sit sedately here alongside Armani and Versace.

CAC is located next to Diane Von Furstenberg of New York. Dig's face falls. I laugh, because I am unkind, and my feet hurt. But I do sympathise with Dig's dilemma a little, because he has made a promise to Shark about her pocket money, and the Lonely Planet guide book reads quality bric-a-brac and other Chinese trinkets... an Aladdin's cave of souvenirs. Nick nack shop it is not. There's no price on the jade necklace gleaming under the crystal window lights. I refuse to go in. Not only because of the location and the stock, there's a woman patrolling the door, and she might not let me pass. Shark has $30 to spend on a souvenir, and she's desperate. The cheapest thing Dig can see is around $175,000.

It is a day starting low, but we are determined not to end it there, even though all our feet hurt. Shark is consoled with the memory of a gibbon and the idea of a sit down on the tram back home to Kennedy Town. And tomorrow, we say brightly, it might not rain.

Friday, 24 April 2009

On the streets

It's time to hit the Hong Kong streets.

The first difference I notice from the last time I was here, nearly twenty years ago when Hong Kong was a British colony and handover a long way ahead, is that in these days of Chinese rule, the cleaners are in. I remember grimy, difficult, hazardous streets. You'd be pushed into the oncoming path of a tram by the simple mass of humanity tidal sweeping down the street. It wasn't malice. Or even indifference. It was self preservation. Everyone needed to keep moving because if anyone stood still for more than twenty seconds they'd be bonded to the pavement. Forever. One particular street was especially perilous. It ran with sticky chicken fat, and in the grey humidity of sub tropical weather making it past the chicken shop was a life or death negotiation.

Well there's nothing like that deep grime now. The hazards of moving humans stays the same. We quickly learn to walk building-side. But I don't know whether my perception of cleanliness is because today I am married, have children and Dig is older and seeks certain comforts in life, or in those days we simply inhabited a world of grime as a consequence of trawling low class dives, sleeping meanly, eating poorly and living dangerously without regard for personal safety. I don't know. Maybe I think the big front-of-house public clean up is because of SARS, because of China hosting the Olympics, because too many bankers and accountants sticking to the pavement became a hindrance to international trade. Perhaps someone can help me here.

Shark doesn't feel like she's in exotic climes, that's for sure. She marches along the pavement looking like she owns the place. She's well ahead of the family group, marching on independently and purposefully while Dig pauses to consult the map so we can make it to the Museum of Hong Kong for the orientation lesson without falling in the sea. Shark strides on, casting ne'er a glance behind her. We should all follow her. She looks like she knows where she's going. By the end of the week she may be running the Hang Seng bank. We'll let you know.

Tiger, by contrast, is wilting. Her feet hurt. No, they really hurt. They really really hurt. They hurt so much she is in pain. Did you hear that? PAIN. Let's talk about that, Tiger. Let's go on endlessly about FEETINPAIN and let's not notice the lady in front of you wearing a coolie hat and face mask. That is not interesting at all. Nor is the Star ferry heading towards you which we are going to get to go to Kowloon. Nor is the huge variety of shipping just thrown up in your face and all the Cantonese language singing out around you. None of that interesting but let's talk about FEETINPAIN. Tiger, you do that while I put my fingers in my ears.

That strategy will serve me well for Squirrel, too.She may be suffering culture shock. She denies it. But we can tell. It started off OK. She was asking why? why? everytime we pointed out anything, like rubber necking tourists do – skyscrapers, pavements, road junctions, shop fronts, how they are not pet shops. Then the why? became more insistent. Then it lost the question mark and became downright aggressive. Finally she is clutching her head in her hands and screaming in an agonised cry WHY! She needs only to drop to her knees to complete this image of a soul locked in perpetual torment.

Dig, of course, is master and commander of this fragmented party. He has the map. He also has the rather useful manner of looking like he knows where he is going and what he is doing. This is probably a show of confidence gained from years at a public school where one simply commands resources because they are there and one is here as well, so they are one's by rights to dispose of accordingly.

He doesn't try this technique with old wife Grit of course, because she would get nasty and kick him in the shins, which she would do whether she is standing by Hong Kong harbour or outside the lavatories in Homebase, Bletchley. Old wife Grit, I'd just like to say, is smilingly pleasant, charming, patient, kind and motherly throughout the five hour trek today on Hong Kong's many busy streets. I just thought I'd mention that on my public record.

But master and commander triumphs. He manages to steer this unwieldy and unlikely party forward. Through trams, traffic, across the water, via a pizza eatery in a shopping mall, until he can deposit the happy not-arguing-at-all family safely at the Hong Kong Museum with the inflatable dinosaur head outside.

And thus is our first day. As a result the children will be tested on fossil fish, salt pans, the role of the pawnshop in nineteenth century Kowloon, the Opium Wars, the handover, and how to cross the street safely. Like next time, if you don't want to be shoved into the gutter and crushed to death horribly by a bus, tram, taxi or minibus, wait for the bips.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Probably too good to be true

Our arrival in Hong Kong is seamless. Lounging across the barrier at the arrivals hall is Jaz, an acquaintance of Dig's. This is the first time I've met him, although I've heard about him often.

Jaz is a teenage spirit spilling out the body of a middle aged man, and he suits Hong Kong perfectly. For years he's shuttled between the dark nights of Scandinavia and the bright lights of Hong Kong. Now he's thinking about finally taking the plunge and making that commitment, buying a flat in a prime location on Hong Kong island, taking those vows and staying put because, he adds, behind the glamour, Hong Kong is a filthy mess, and for that, he loves her. I wouldn't trust him. He may back out of the deal.

Jaz greets us warmly, jovially, hugely, with a wry smile, loose limbs and suit, and the minute we put a foot wrong, he'll probably take advantage of us, smiling, and let us know it at the same time. We may hand over several hundred dollars in order to be taken advantage of all over again. He looks at Shark, Squirrel and Tiger and mixes them up, deliberately. He forgets their names, captures their attention by shouting out 'hey team!' and casually offers himself at their disposal as the arbiter for dispute when they see their bedrooms. As he teases them, he charms them, referring to himself as 'that horrible man'. Girls, never trust a lounge lizard. One day you might thank me for that advice as you hang off his words and give up those shy smiles.

Jaz leads us to a smart blue people carrier parked close at the airport and we're helped aboard with bags and kids. Then we start on the journey to the island where we are to stay in a residency block with sweeping views over the harbours heading towards Kowloon.

From the airport I can look at this landscape for the first time in nearly twenty years. There is a new town development close by. Large skyscraping towers rise up, like striding giants flicking a casual fuck you as they pace a steady beating path by the base of a soaring mountain. The road around them curves a broad concrete smile; as we drive, yet more structures sprawl only up and up. We are in the world's most vertical city, where the only reason to come down is so you can go up again.

The territory of Hong Kong, one of the world's greatest ports, is made up of several islands, although you would never think so. We stride the sea distance between them effortlessly by road and bridge. Sweeping into the denser networks of roads alongside vast docks we can see why Hong Kong is one huge product hub. Those items you're using at the breakfast table this morning? We saw them loaded. Millions of them in thousands upon thousands of metal containers, reaching you by sea and road.

The meeting of road and water is part of Hong Kong, but it's made up of the daily work of thousands of people too: we quickly turn into a wide street churning with pedestrians, trams, taxis, noise, lights, and then into a smaller road with bars, shops, folks sitting out on narrow streets on barrels, then again a turn and we find ourselves crossing tram lines and back along the waterside. Suddenly it's a stop and we're out, staring up at the sixty floors that we'll call home for the next week.

The resident block is shining with smoked glass, gold effect mirrorwork, marble style floors. Jazz leads us to the lifts. We have to take the slow lift and not the express lift. The slow lift serves floors to 35; the express lift doesn't stop until floor 36, whooshing past the lower floors because there isn't time to stop. There's no floor 4, 14, 24, anything four. It's bad luck, because in Cantonese the sound of four sounds like death. Three is lucky, is life, and this sound saam is the first word I learn, rippling behind us approvingly from desk staff and doormen.

From the lift, key cards, security codes, more doors. Privacy is hard to come back in this densely packed city of millions of people, but when you have it, keycode it.

The flat is surprisingly spacious and beautiful. Huge picture windows show a panoramic view of Victoria harbour. A fight breaks out immediately between Squirrel, Shark and Tiger when they see their rooms. Far below we can see the harbour sweeping away into the pollution smog and mists over the South China Sea. Skimming over the waters are ferries, tugs, catamarans, loading platforms, fishing boats, a sailing ship, a pirate ship lost from the wrong century. An enormous sea going cruise ship sits motionless while all the water traffic skims and crosses. The churning water behind each vessel leaves long trails of white streaks, like the vapour trail from aeroplanes. The argument over the bedrooms goes on. Jaz laughs and makes it worse by suggesting ever more complex solutions, sometimes requiring staff and men with lorries. Even the children laugh. In the harbour, vessels skim past one another, and by right those ships should have crashed, and everyone on board fallen and lost at sea.

After another twenty minutes I interrupt Jaz's negotiations and broker a fragile peace, at the discreet cost of a packet of chocolate biscuits solely for the girl brave enough to stay in the worst room, perversely with the finest view. But Jaz hasn't finished with us yet. He's taking us out onto the streets to find the supermarkets, and on to the restaurant, where the children can experience their first genuine Cantonese meal, learn to use chopsticks, and discover that fish swimming about in tanks outside do not signal pet shop.

Outside the sky is grey and the air a heavy mix of humidity and pollution. Jaz laughs when I ask him if Hong Kong has blue skies. Three times a year he roars. But mostly it's this. Through the distant mists I can make out lumpen shapes of mountains, but I can't see them clearly. As we walk along the narrow streets, pulsing with colourful shops signs, people moving in and out of bars and shops, brilliant reflections from shining windows, Jaz points out the hanging wires, battered air con units hanging from walls, the sharp twist into a dark cut where no one would accidentally turn. Some of these streets skim round the backs of shops and restaurants; figures emerge carrying bags. They might contain refuse, or they might not. I can see why he feels he might need to stay.

I worry about dinner, but I don't say anything. Years ago I felt Hong Kong was one of the worst places a fussy western vegetarian could eat. I ate McDonald's chips and vowed never to eat a turtle, as if a vow was necessary.

I shouldn't have worried. Jaz introduces us to a Cantonese colleague, who says the children can eat what they like, because she'll sort it. She sits the waiter down at the table with us, and together they make up dishes the vegetarians can eat. Tofu, in moderation, pak choi with garlic, fungi, which is nothing like mushroom, something we are told is sliced lily root, carrots carved into delicate shapes, and cabbage, lots of it, lightly braised. And if all else fails, there is rice. Nothing fails. It is delicious. For now, I am converted. The sweet green bean soup for desert will do us all good assures Jaz. It is an excellent digestif, assures good balance in our spirits, and promotes restful sleep. On that he is right. We fall asleep with the millions of lights shining from tower blocks around us and the harbour still buzzing below. And for today, I am regretting that we stay only for one week.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Here we come

Honestly, Squirrel has ideas above her station. And British Airways might have beds in first class, but down here in economy to Hong Kong, there's folding room only, so tuck in those knees. And stop pointing out that mama has developed an obesity problem on her backside. She knows. Squeezing into that seat may not be possible without emergency liposuction.

Well, apart from the Houdini act required to get in and out of the seats, the twelve hours on board flight is surprisingly pain free.

And hey, the BA cabin staff even manage to pause and smile! You wouldn't believe how that small smile matters after eight hours chained to a seat. Even a false smile will do. And so much better than the glance that says we have better things to do than parade up and down an aeroplane bringing you a Fanta to feed your fat arse. Get it yourself, bloody peasant.

Of course the interest the staff take in whether Squirrel wants a cup of coffee or not might be because the plane is half full, so the under staffing doesn't look quite so apparent.

And the fact that it is half full, for which I guess we can blame the economic downturn, means fat Grit can loll about over two seats, which becomes a positive advantage at bedtime, even though she has to take off her legs and shove them in an overhead locker to spread out on those seats to sleep.

Well airlines, take note. The BA staff might have their upper lips freshly starched every morning but this has to be better than the opening gambit of whadyakidswant? from the Emirates cabin crew when Squirrel was about to drop dead through thirst and neglect.

Marks out of ten to British Airways? Tiger 8/10. Shark 6/10. Squirrel 3/10. That possibly reflects the fact you didn't give her a free upgrade to first class. Your mistake was to let her know it exists.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

They are still not coming

Thanks to Aunty Dee being around, the gritlets get to attend some of the lessons that are starting up today, while I run around reminding dancers, sailors and French people about the dates of the lessons we won't make.

Strange that no-one's yet offered me a discount for the lessons we miss this term.

And because I should be doing so much more right now, and will worry whether I have packed the phone charger, so better check that for the eighth time, then here's a photo of the items I have now taken out of the luggage three times and hidden in the cupboard. Only to have them reappear hopefully on the bedroom floor.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The most important piece of luggage

So here is a confession. All the autonomous home educators will hate me. Each time we go away, whether it is Bath or Hong Kong, I put together a project book of tasks, activities and things to do.

I'm offering no defence, bar it may save my sanity while Dig dumps us all in a hotel room one morning while he goes off to work and I think Crikey! What do I do now?

And if you're interested, go here.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Were we smoking weed?

I wake up this morning and I feel totally relaxed. I wish I could say it was a night of passionate hot sex but it was not. It was the result of three hours of laughter with Ellie and Mr W who came by to share a curry with us from the local takeaway.

Aunty Dee ran up and down the stairs checking on the children who were bribed into silence with the boxed set of Dad's Army and twelve Tesco pancakes.

Now close to the bedroom upstairs is a small kitchen with coffee maker for morning coffee and microwave for late night heating of pancakes. Aunty Dee taught Shark to put three pancakes on a plate and punch in fifteen seconds.

So maybe next time I will duct tape the microwave door shut, because fifteen minutes for three pancakes resulted in an awful stench and a kitchen full of smoke.

Despite this, I remain relaxed.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

And on a white horse she came riding

Aunty Dee has arrived. Dig got on the phone and threatened to commit suicide unless she came this instant.

Let's just say things are becoming a little tense in this household right now.

It is all Dig's fault. He is recording a presentation in his office and must have absolute silence. Fat chance. I am engaged in full warfare over a pair of brown boots and the Frankenstein dollies. They are bloody well not coming, so don't ask.

And as for the good people of South America, they will watch that video presentation wondering what all the background screaming is about. Mid way through that very important section about commas will be the furious screaming and disembodied cry, I WANT MY ROCKETDOGS!

So here is a picture of something calming, which will have to do until Aunty Dee's silent knitting practice establishes some sort of order in this house.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Memo: write notes

Mama might be scurrying around cancelling the milk, crawling about in the eaves to find suitcases and beating herself around the ears because she has lost her glasses AGAIN but this sustained household chaos in preparation for a trip away is nothing compared to the need screaming from my soul right now to provide an education for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger.

Listen. Can you hear the autonomous home ed crowd yelling, Preparation for going away is an education! Share it! Let it flow!

But this misses the fact that I need an education for Shark, Squirrel and Tiger that puts them out of the house and far away from me.

With just a few days to go before we climb on board that flight to HK I need to keep a thought in my head that is held in for more than two minutes fourteen seconds, otherwise we are going to be leaving this country having packed three empty milk bottles, a waste disposal pipe and a bin liner. Try sharing out those between the four of us to wear for more than three days and you see my problem.

Now one of the best things about home education is that you maintain a lot of contact with everyone in a fifty mile radius who offers workshops, lessons, things to do, places where you can dump your kids. And this week I have found a two-day course in woodworkingsomething with someonewhoIjustdon'tcare.

This workshop represents a total of twelve hours when these kids will be away from my brain which they are pecking at like hens with stuff like who took the dolly outside and mummy I cannot get the snowman round the corner in the computer game.

So I ring up and book them in and tell the organiser I won't be staying. I will do a kid-dump-and-run. And the first sight I see when we arrive is a table piled with dangerous tools.


For a split second there I almost think of backing out of this arrangement and staying to supervise the wielding of those glue guns, hacksaws and screwdrivers, but then the sensible part of my brain takes over and tells me the worst that could happen is Dig will have to nurse Squirrel in A&E with a screwdriver impaled in her head which will give me an extra five hours to pack, find my missing glasses and cancel the newspapers.

So it's a very smug Grit who walks away from the hall of hazards because a big part of my life can now be given over to undivided attention. I can make a commitment to some intense activity like remembering to pack crayons, paper and masking tape in case the little grits start acting up on board flight 666 with twelve hours to go.

But it is strange, is it not, because my perforated and punctured brain cannot operate for more than 30 minutes at a time. It may need the constant kid-type interruption in order to function.

After an hour of wondering what to do I am strongly reminded of that time when Nanjo offered to babysit the eighteen month old triplets to give me and Dig three evening hours off together, so we could be in the same place at the same time, possibly to try and save our marriage. For an hour of that time we wandered aimlessly in a carpark not knowing how to get out because we did not know where to go, what to do or who we were.

It is the same today on this day of freedom when I must be purposeful, use this time constructively and must focus, focus, focus.

Of course it all goes to waste. After three hours I have packed two items of clothing, lost my recent memory, and cannot recall what I have set out to do. An inability to go forward or go back has me spending an hour trying to remember what I have to do so I can write a to-do list which I will probably lose.

So it is not without relief that I spend the last hour of my free time today at the woodworkingsomething workshop taking these photographs.




And if it comes to the worst, I can pack and take these, and at least this will serve as a memory of a purposeful moment.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Day three: Squirrel

The most pleasurable time of all, thanks to Squirrel's can-do-any-shoe mentality and her cheery outlook on life. Her continuing resilience to anything resembling common sense in footwear is exhilarating. She dances from the shop with pretty plimsolls in pink. I leave the shop fantasising about a pair of red satin shoes sparkling with rubies. The perfect shoe shopping companion.


Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Day two: Tiger

Surgical removal of the Rocketdog boots that Tiger has worn continuously for three months takes most of our time at the shoe shop. At one point she refuses to be parted from them and declares she will wear them anywhere, even crossing the Sahara in temperatures of 54 degrees when she is threatened by angry camels. Finally she succumbs to a pair of sandals with flowers on them. I resolve to bury the Rocketdogs in the garden when she is asleep.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

I may not have a sex life, but on the plus side...

I can tour shoe shops with triplet girls.

This is a three day process. Day One is Shark.

Shark wants blue, so that narrows things down. In fact it is the start point for some pretty intensive negotiation. Bargaining and deal broking follows. But discussing shoes for two hours with Shark is strangely rewarding. And we both try on many unsuitable shoes to much laughter and public frivolity. Pleasing.

Plastic with diamante heel?
Another pair of shoes Shark will not be wearing this summer.
Sadly they did not fit me either.

Monday, 13 April 2009

But first, bank holiday Monday

Egg hunt at the local museum.
Shut up mother about the sodding rural history.
Screw the English shires.
Just find the ruddy egg markers and be quick about it.
Then we can scoff chocolate and go home.



Hurrah! We've been dying to do this all week!
Here is a big bunch of decorated hard boiled eggs ready for tea with the Hat.
She will have the egg dressed up as a tyrannosaurus rex.
That's the one I did. And it is miles better than that cakky chicken one by Squirrel.




My God! Don't forget mama to clear out The Cake lurking under the glass cake dome.
I mean it's not like you couldn't see it or anything.
And you damn well know we made this on March 5.
* Sloppy, mama, sloppy.


And mama forces us all to make thank you cards for the Hat
because we know she will turn up with a bucketload of chocolate and presents.
And what is wrong with Edvard Munch's The Scream?
He would have looked like that if he'd have seen The Cake.


*Trump this from anything you can find in your fridge, Jaywalker!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Strange life

Well I had better fess up. In a short while, we are travelling to Hong Kong. So I seriously must find Tiger some shoes, because she is not wearing those disgusting brown boots with the soles dropping off.

The horror of taking Tiger to the shoe shop in preparation for new travel is not the only thing which has distracted me. I've been sitting here staring through the window, even though I have too much to do for that.

Really, I have amputated a large part of my memory. It is too much for my head.

Dig's adventures took him around the world. And often, I travelled with him. The first time I visited China was many years ago. Our first stop was Beijing. It was freezing cold, snow was piled high on the streets, I wore thermals to protect me against the biting winds. Foreign Exchange Currency was still in use and the Friendship Stores were the recommended places to shop. What would happen? was the future and we chatted about how Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics would envelop Hong Kong.

I had a wonderful introduction to China, and I loved it. We were banqueted, I was introduced to the translator to Chairman Mao, we were toured round Beijing's sights with the help of a British diplomat who did it all with a determined smile. He was approaching retirement, sometimes walked with difficulty over the ice and had a streaming cold. He took us to see the wall at Badaling and extricated us from a difficult situation when we were stopped by army staff. He maintained a calm I am British bearing throughout and I felt utterly safe and remarkably fortunate.

Throughout, I probably hindered Dig as much as I helped. I smiled, hopefully and politely at the right times, but insulted one of the wealthiest and influential men in Beijing when I could not bear to eat four snails in soup that cost, apparently, the monthly wages of one man.

It was, throughout, an exceptional life. And really, I should be happy at these memories, but they only make me sad, which is why I mostly try and forget them.

Travel like this made me different from many people back home in England. It was not a difference I could easily surmount. I guess I was foolish in assuming this life would continue.

When the children were born, that life stopped. Now I could no longer travel with Dig. He went round the world, leaving a wife and triplets behind him.

But at home, left alone, I couldn't tell anyone how my life had changed. I said nothing because I thought few people would care, understand or sympathise in riches to rags. No one was interested anyhow; they saw three babies and wanted news of the children. So what. A privileged and separated lifestyle was swapped for another one, lived apart. A strange, unreal, unknown one; a 'mum of triplets'. Now I was different from everyone else in a different way.

Then Dig flew back to China and his first stop was Beijing. Squirrel, Shark and Tiger were about eighteen months old and happily staggering around bumping into tables and chairs, bruising their foreheads and falling over toys. In determination to be out of the house everyday, come rain or shine, to force myself to fit this life as much as to protect my mind, I took the triplets to a nearby Church hall, to a mums and toddlers meeting.

Now the area where we live in our falling down house isn't wealthy. It's made up of people who work hard, make ends meet, do what they think is right. I like it. Out on our streets it is robust and earthy, it is not cosseted and gated. And at the meeting the young mums sat round in a circle and I joined them. Their children fought over access to wheeled vehicles, dancing toys and the play teapots, and the mums discussed how difficult it was to make ends meet. There was the electricity bill to pay, said one. It's just gone up again! said another. And food. And clothes for the babies. They looked at their children and worried about those things.

These things were true for me too, and I was dealing with much of it alone, but I could not express this, because to say well look! how would you like to buy three sets of clothes! seemed cruelly like oneupmanship to their problems, a hijacking of their concerns and a dismissal of their fears. I could say at a stroke how my difficulties were so much worse, and by comparison, yours pales. So I said nothing.

And then one mum said Isn't it difficult to go shopping? I would like another pair of shoes. But it is so hard to go to the shops with the little one! And I said nothing. Because I am shallow and apart the thought that popped into my mind, with Dig gone not a day before back to China, I thought, But going to the shops is nothing! I didn't get to go to Beijing!

Strangely, I can't ever forget that thought and my own horror at hearing this inside my head, because at that moment it not only showed me how apart I had lived my life. It showed how, even with such an overwhelming change in my life's fortunes, and what a deep struggle that was to me every single day, I simply could not share any of it with anyone.

Well don't feel any sympathy for me. We are deeply fortunate. I am not now quite so alone, but I am more reconciled and the children are growing. I'll take the children to the shoe shop and sort out shoes and sandals and hide away Tiger's old boots all in preparation for their first trip to Hong Kong. It will be like my first trip too, for so many many years. And for that I am deeply grateful and happy.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Make do and mend

I am rummaging through one of three big boxes and one cupboard we keep stuffed with fabric offcuts and old clothes.

I'd like to say this is because I am wary of spending huge amounts of money on kid's clothes, but it isn't. I did that last week.

No. This is because I did that last week. I took Shark to Gap and stocked her up with clothes for an impending clothes wearing ordeal. Today I ask her naively if she'd actually like to wear any of those expensive and delightful items we bought at great cost to our souls last week at Gap. She considers this for a moment, puts her head on one side, pulls up her top lip and says slowly Well actually mummy, like she's going to explain exactly why she cannot wear any of these items and why I will spend the rest of my days trying to persuade Squirrel and Tiger to like blue.

Stop right there I command. Tell me no more because I want to die in ignorance of what you are about to say.

Then I drag out of the cupboard an old blue cotton Laura Ashley dress, Shark's real favourite, one she wore and wore and wore until I had to hide it away where she should never find it. This dress was so thin in parts that your breath and this fabric take up the same air space.

Then I locked the door and I hacked away at this dress with scissors and needles. Two hours later I presented Shark with a skirt of this very same material gathered and trimmed, and she is now wearing that in such complete happiness and joy that I have got back to the cupboard and dragged out an old shirt and six more dresses.

And the rest of my day is spent right here.

Friday, 10 April 2009

How I know my little girl

One of the biggest worries I had at the beginning of the week was whether Tiger would use the bathroom at the farmhouse where she was staying.

That means both go to the toilet and wash.

I figured that if she didn't do the former, somewhere about Wednesday she would explode, so I would get a call. That didn't happen. I guess about Tuesday she pooped.

Then there was the washing thing. When we saw the accommodation up at the big house there was one bathroom with bath and shower for six girls. And a spider.

The moment I learned about that spider I knew that not one limb of Tiger's would go near those washing facilities unless she had received absolute assurances that there remained not one spidery particle in that room. Reassuring her it was gone - whether shuffled off due to imminent invasion of pre-teens or flat under a slipper - would not have been sufficient, such is her lack of trust in what adults tell her about spiders and all creepy crawlers. Yet serving up the spider's head on a platter would not have done either. It would have had the same impact on her peace of mind as the careless moment last year when I passed her a bedtime book called Bad Dreams.

But I reckoned that if she wasn't going to wash, it wouldn't kill her. Add the fact there is probably nothing Tiger would like so much in all the world as not washing. Taking her to heaven would be the idea of smelling of horse Daisy for an entire week.

And in fact that is exactly what happened. We pick her up today and I give her a big big squeeze and know she hasn't missed us much, maybe sometimes, when she wasn't trotting around a field on Daisy. I tell her she smells like a horse. She smiles proudly and says 'Mummy, I didn't wash all week. And there was a spider in the bathroom'.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Why I might move to Dubai

For what is possibly the first time this year I have had a day off. I feel like the scullery maid. But I guarantee Eliza would not have had as good a time of it as me, because today I have roamed London with Oo.

Oo has travelled from Dubai where she now lives with husband, child and strange cat. She is a woman who lives her life so brilliantly precipitous, she is forever skittering on the edge of disaster and triumph. Yet this shows just how ambitious are her endeavours.

She would probably kick me for claiming that. OK, I am sure that in her life, like in mine, somedays we struggle to fall out of bed alive. But Oo, I say, at least when you stand upright, you are commanding stars. I am just mopping up sick.

Well we do what women should do when they are let loose in the big city. We exhaust every shoe shop we can find, hang out in the very fine Natural Shoe Store where there exist the most comfortable foot licking shoes on the planet, and then we eat, drink and are merry in bistros and cafes. All day long.



And after a day with Oo, I might just forget everything about the dark side, and up sticks to Dubai.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Childhood takes a long time

From the start, school was wrong for Tiger. When she, Squirrel and Shark were aged three, I took them to a local nursery group to 'stay and play'.

So much went wrong, I barely know where to start. But for Tiger, the experience was fretful and troubling. She did not understand what she could do and what she could not. She could not understand the rhythms of the day. She was scared of the toilets and of the rough and tumble that went on in the corners of the rooms.

And so much was puzzling. The staff led her outside to an area they called the garden. The garden was an asphalt yard with toys, tumbling mat and a plastic slide. There was no grass, no soil, no trees. The bushes were locked away on the other side of the nursery school fence where the children could not reach them. The leaves were dense and hard and prickly. They discouraged anyone from climbing in. Or out.

After a few days when, against my better judgement, I lured Tiger there, she was more reluctant to go, and it was harder to make her. She said, in a louder and louder voice, that she hated nursery, that she didn't want to go, that she was frightened to be there and wanted to come home. At first I probably tried not to listen. But eventually I had to, and I wondered why I was trying to force her when it clearly wasn't helping her, or me.

And then we decided. We gradually withdrew from nursery. All the other children slipped away into black and grey and white uniforms. We chose not to send Tiger and her sisters to school. I took Tiger, Shark and Squirrel off to the woods and fields and playgrounds to catch the last of that year's summer sunshine.

Today The Independent publishes this headline. For Tiger, this was true.

Tiger is happily at the stables, learning how to ride. This is the first time she's stayed away from home, and even though it is merely a few miles along the road, the leap in her confidence and self assurance is as high as the sky.

For Tiger, childhood takes a long time. And I feel content that it should.

And if you are wondering what on earth can have happened to Shark and Squirrel today, I'll tell you. Shark is plunged into a world of sea stories. And Squirrel is playing in the wood.



Tuesday, 7 April 2009

I need to make it through the week

I miss Tiger so hugely I cannot quantify that amount. It is a distance further than from here to the stars.

And this despite the two connected cells remaining in my brain telling me she is safe and well and probably not being trampled upon by a mad horse down at the local stables. For that, someone would surely telephone and no call has come. The third brain cell, that I keep for common sense, says Tiger on her boarding week has probably already forgotten about mama and papa and sisters. I will arrive at the end of the week and Tiger will look at me quizzically, her head tilted sideways, her finger in her mouth, and a puzzled frown that says Who?

Well right now I despair of making it to Wednesday. There is a horrible pressure in my chest so great I am surely enduring enlarged heart disease made worse by sorrow and the constant emotional torture of looking around for Tiger, only to recall in the emptiness that she is on the back of a horse in a field, or possibly being trampled to death by a stable-crazed pony which nobody can be bothered to tell me about.

I miss her in every part of the day, like missing the way she rolls herself up in her purple patterned duvet every morning like an exotic gigantic slug. I miss the way she growls at the breakfast table because I prised her out of bed at 10.30. I miss the way she tucks her knees up under her pink dress and snarls when I tell her off. I miss her standing quietly by me in the office, watching, not saying anything. Then I know there's been a wrestling match over a unicorn or piece of knitting and her sisters have come off worse and are probably lying there right now in the front room all mangled and bent out of shape having incurred Tiger's wrath.

Then I miss those moments when she is so quiet and thoughtful and downcast I realise this is the way she shows us her sensitivity. That crumpling point when she shows us how fragile and vulnerable she is can be brought about with a careless word and thoughtless gesture from any one of us. But we can do that so often because it is so hard to know what that word might be. I am learning how to recognise that moment and how to swiftly use a new word or turn events round to lessen the impact. Really I think this is a sign of growing up, daily, and Tiger is becoming that unstable collection of spilling out hormones we will soon recognise as the difficult pre teen.

But my goodness Tiger how you can deliver those wrongs too. Like when you are outraged at something somebody said. Then we cry how it was really a supportive thing they said! But the wrong person said it, or it was at the wrong moment, the wrong voice pitch, or maybe the wrong turn of head or the wrong type of smile. And then Tiger will flare out a rage to match all and any that I can muster. Well I miss that too, Tiger, I really do. And possibly I cannot wait to see your darkening scowl and hear you yell MUMMMMY! in your volatile hot-head anger in response to my provoking words like Why not use this paper to make your thank you card? And when you snap at me this weekend, which you surely will, I will probably laugh in delight and fall on my knees to wrap my arms around you.

Worse, come the weekend I will be so happy to see you and want you to be happy back home again I may fall into the trap of asking you what would you like? What would make your life complete?

And it will not be home-made strawberry ice cream like I imagined, it will be that I must adopt a horse. Oh yes I will do that, although I have no idea where to keep it. Possibly in the cellar, unless it locks itself in by accident like Sasha the au pair, and then it will have to climb out the windows. Can horses climb? This is going to be such a bad idea when I tell Dig. Better just adopt the horse for my beloved Tiger and not say anything.

I can wait no longer. Seriously. I am going to creep right now to the stables, climb over the fence or cajole and wheedle and weep until someone lets me in and then I am going to hear and see Tiger and smell her hair and bring home her photograph to cry over and cuddle with.




Monday, 6 April 2009

Take one away...

Life is so quiet with twins. Really, I cannot believe the drop in volume in this house. We have conversations at normal sound levels. Howabout that! There is not the constant falling out, screaming, banging doors and throwing puffins. Shark and Squirrel are quietly playing together, keeping each other amused with a horse head on a stick. And when I suggest swimming, there's no three-way fighting over the blue towel or the pink goggles. They simply dart off to ready themselves, pack bags and wait in the hall, like I've been trying to train them to do for five years.

Now this isn't to lay all this noise and chaos at Tiger's door. Not at all. I have learned that I could remove any one of the triplets and I would have this peace in the house. And this tells me it is the dynamics of three that is inherently unstable, a bit like a three-way mounting pressure on the inside of a volcano and now stand back, let's see which one makes it through the door first.

So this is the conclusion I come to. If you want a quiet life, only have children in multiples of two.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

When this day ended, I drank heavily

First we went to the Buddhist temple to say Happy Birthday Buddha. Don't count me as a Buddhist. I cannot chant and I hit spiders with shoes.


And I have no idea what this says. Probably Do not photograph this sign.

Then we rolled down hills. Strangely, Shark can only roll sideways.


We sniffed the blossom and I resolved to stop relying on this phone camera, because there is a limit to the quality of these photos. It's convenient though, in case I have to photograph our smashed up car again.


Then Shark, Squirrel and Tiger made daisy chains. I thank any deity available for the fact that their fingers are big enough to take on that duty.

And on the way back to the car, we hang a wish on the wishing tree. I have no idea what Squirrel is wishing for.


And finally the moment I have dreaded.

We leave Tiger at the stables for her boarding week. I feel so sad she isn't climbing straight back in this car to smack one sister round the face and kick the back of my seat. And I feel so glad that finally she feels ready to stay away from us all, and is so excited about cuddling her favourite horse, Daisy.



I hope Daisy knows how fortunate she is.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

In the old days the sun orbited the earth

Dig is due home today. Of course the logical thing to do is go out.

Put it like this. Would you stay at home being the dutiful wife to a husband whose first job will be to walk straight past you, crash into the furniture, slump into an office chair and stare at a monitor screen for the next 17 hours? Or would you rather pack the kids in the car and go learn about Galileo?

Galileo is doing a turn today at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. Apparently it's 400 years since Galileo looked through his telescope, eye-spied planets and moons and decided the earth orbited the sun. They have let him out from his house arrest especially for the event.

When Dig first went away, Squirrel, Shark and Tiger were six months old. I cried myself to sleep because the centre of my universe had gone. Since then I have needed to get on with it, look after Squirrel, Shark and Tiger, and cope. There was no alternative. Now the kids are older and life goes on and the world turns around the principles we have set up to guide this family, like a love of exploring, learning, and finding out. And, ironically, growing older together.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Sometimes, I need help

Because Dig spends half the year wandering about in other countries, probably to flee the hideous sight of sexy wife Grit, I am forced to do many things without help.

But there are some things I cannot do alone.

Last night I drive the gritlets home from the kiddie RSPB group to be reminded at 9pm that Friday morning is forest school and there will be a catapult competition. Hang on gritlets! First let me make hot milky drinks for the weary socialites, load the dishwasher, unload the laundry, sweep the kitchen floor and finish that bath and bedtime routine!

But mummy! squeals Tiger. And then all her desires, sorrows and fears pour out. I want to do the competition. I couldn't understand the instructions. I won't have my catapult. Daddy said he would help me. He won't be home in time.

Don't worry soothes mama Grit. I will see what I can do.

Thus 11 pm finds me poring over these instructions.


And again at 7 am.


By 9 am I am going to kill myself. I have failed and betrayed my little girl. Slumped opposite me in a chair is Tiger, desperately wanting to enter the catapult competition, sobbing out her heart. The catapult is in the same mangled wooden stick arrangement that I had yesterday, except I have snapped one of the sticks when it flew off the rubber band and hit me in the face.

I must declare defeat. I give in. I need a professional. I drive Tiger, Shark, Squirrel and the pieces of wood to Forest School where there is a man who can do these things. Mr W, home educating parent and engineer.

Twenty minutes later, we have this:


Then I need to break the news to Tiger. I say, Let this be its own reward. Only one catapult made it here today, and that is yours. And the organiser, probably wisely, has called off the competition.

Tiger looks at me, dispirited, forlorn, feeling all alone. And I know how she feels.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

And I must sort that paypal

Tiger has worn three drearily monotonous purple velour dresses almost constantly now for several months. When she peels those dresses off at night I stuff them at the bottom of the laundry basket so I can claim they are still in the wash. After a day or so she will drag them out in all their stinking vileness or, if I win, she will locate the two broken down tee shirts and the pink leggings with the hole in the gusset and threaten to come back later for the dresses because now she knows where I hide them.

Admittedly Tiger does not come from a family of snappy dressers. I sink to three pairs of jeans to wear in rotation, one of which I sometimes sleep in and the others which walk clockwise about the kitchen of their own accord propelled by dirt fuel and steered by ten years ingrained habit.

But we have to do something. Because soon Tiger is away to sit on the back of a horse in a field. She is to do this for an entire week of boarding and will of course be locked in with the Lucillia Hitherington-Smythes of this world who doubtless will sport the finest country jodhpurs. Unless I act quickly Tiger will wear a purple velour dress with the front still melded together from a craft activity that went badly wrong in 2006. We will be social outcasts, excluded from garden parties we are never invited to anyway and all my social dreams and aspirations of marrying Tiger off to a minor member of the aristocracy will be sunk.

But while I clothes shop with Tiger, what can I do with Shark and Squirrel?

Dig of course isn't here. That would be useful because then I would have a child minder, albeit one who doesn't budge from his office chair. Well the children don't mind about that because when they are trashing the rest of the house they can do it undisturbed.

But I have a real fear of shopping with any child of mine near me, let alone all three. I set out with a list of things I want to do and after five minutes the only thing I want to do is come home. The worst is when I took Squirrel shopping for a week's supply of groceries and came back clutching two pineapples. I think the involuntary twitching may suggest it has risen to the level of phobia.

Of course I know people do it and I do not know how. You have my total admiration. And let me say I do not mind shopping near your child, because when your child throws themselves to the floor or hangs off the rails screaming like a banshee I can step over and round them. No problem. Just if mine do it then I can use words like mortified, humiliated, never again, now we have to emigrate to escape the shame.

But urgent action is required. I cannot shop online. That would be sensible and convenient. And the paypal thing is all wonky and I do not have three weeks to fix it.

So I need to plan. If I am organised, I can do anything. First I try and minimise the number of children in my care. I dump Squirrel at her gym lesson with instructions to wait because we will be late. Then I make straight to Tesco kid's clothes department with Shark and Tiger. Tesco is ideal. Tiger, unlike Shark, will wear pink, and Tesco has a lot of pink.

Tesco's pink is heaven if you are a Tiger. If you are a Shark who has seen it last week, then it is hell and you can declare this loudly, along with expressions like Tesco pisses me off in earshot of the floor manager. I tell Shark somewhere there is a blue dress, see if you can find it. Then with only one child left I run down the aisles grabbing all the pink age 9-10 I can find.

Now fortunately Tesco do not bother with stupid limits like 4 garments in a changing room. If they did I would be writing this from a prison cell, because I stack about 30 garments into a changing room along with a Tiger before running off in panic to make sure Shark is occupied in her challenge and has not been abducted by the truancy patrol, the store detectives or a concerned adult seeking vulnerable children to console by suggesting they come outside and help find a lost kitten.

Once I snatch Shark back from the fingers of the police, wardens and crazoids from the pages of the Daily Mail, then we hang around outside the changing rooms where I intermittently shout are you alright? and hope Tiger answers and not the old lady trying on the windcheater.

Now this process of a child alone in a changing room is so open to error and fraught with tension I tap out the words on this keyboard knowing my blood pressure is rising to 4,500 over 2,100. But through much pain and misery and sacrifice on my part I have reached an accommodation. It is that I do not see Tiger getting in and out of clothes but I can see clothes that are on her or on the floor. Thus there is much shouting of are you ready yet? and banging open and shut of a changing room door over the next hour while we identify a complete range of wardrobe items suitable for sitting on the back of a horse in a field for an entire week.

Two hours later we have reached the nearest state of perfection we can attain without a bottle of brandy, and that is four pairs of identical pink trousers, three pairs of identical purple velour tracksuit bottoms, four identical pink tops and five identical white fleeces.

So now it all comes down to this.

Dig, if you are reading this blog somewhere as you wander between hotel rooms complaining about the room service, when you come home on Saturday, you had better say how lovely Tiger looks in her pink outfit and what a big thank you is owed to mama for all her hard work and that her new wardrobe is sure to fit well with Lucillia Hitherington-Smythe and that she will have a lovely time on the back of a horse in a field. Yes. You had better say that. Or I will change the locks.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Resting

After yesterday's live vomit performance we all need to look at something not yellow and white with bits of carrot floating in it. So here's a picture of a fairy, by Squirrel.


Come to think of it, that is strange because we haven't eaten carrot. Kids must keep a special carrot sac somewhere about their bodies and pump it out once a year.