Monday 24 October 2016

Family Guy: Fragile peace in the War of the Rooms. So, can I've one?

Door wars - Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner fight it out in the War of the Roses
Door wars - Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner fight it out in the War of the Roses

TEENAGERS, it seems, are a highly territorial and possessive bunch when it comes to their bedrooms.

I know this not only because it is blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever had a teenager, as they will probably have come perilously close to losing the tip of their nose at least once as a door slammed at the speed of sound, but because, though it now amazes my offspring, I was once a teenager myself.

I vividly recall, at age 14, setting nasty traps in my room for a particularly annoying French student who, as I never tired of reminding my mum, 'I never asked for': traps involving fishing line and garden tools. The fact that no one was maimed is a testament only to my lifelong ineptitude for DIY.

In the end, I resorted to tacking an irreverent poem about the trespasser, something to do with amphibians I think, to my door, and since the student had barely a word of English, this only served to get me in trouble with my parents, who duly sentenced me to solitary, in my room, which was, of course, a 'result'.

Almost 35 years later, with three teens towering around us and a 20-year-old due home from abroad soon, I'm coming to the conclusion that this 'bedroom territorialism' is, in fact, a sort of cycle - one that eases as we grow into our 20s and 30s, only to return later in spades in middle age.

All I need do, for instance, is touch the handle of our 13-year-old daughter's door to elicit a blood-curdling shriek (because apparently, for the third time in a day, "Don't you know I'm changing?" and "What's wrong with you?").

And yet, just a few years up the chain, the second eldest can barely care less about being ousted from the room he's occupied for a year while his older brother was away.

"Long as I don't ever have to share a room with HIM again," is what he says, hoisting a disgusted finger to point crookedly down the dinner table at his grinning younger sibling.

These two shared the loft extension for a time, squeezing into opposite ends and taping a line down the centre, over which any incursion was treated as an act of aggression.

Thing was, the only suitable remaining room back then was an office. Only when the eldest went off to America did the next one have a chance to claim a new republic (through the medium of wall posters).

And so, this has been the relative peace. Tetchy 13-year-old with her electric door handle; older brother, winner of the battle for the attic and current monarch of a kingdom resembling Francis Bacon's studio (if it was raided by vandals and strewn with underpants and sweet wrappers).

And, of course, one remaining sibling, for now, sole occupying force in the relatively luxurious confines of the absentee eldest. It could all be a ticking time bomb, like the former Yugoslav republic, but for one fact.

The second eldest suddenly seems fine with the prospect of what we tried to paint as a 'sideways move' to the rather more modest box room, where we promise to extricate several years of office detritus.

"Don't know what the hell you mean," he says, when we tell him exactly this, "but if you want a hand chucking stuff, just say so."

The irony of all this, possibly the slowest game of musical chairs in history, is that the homecoming eldest doesn't particularly care where he's put either.

My wife and I are the ones that think he should be back in the biggest room for the year of his college finals.

This sort of makes sense. Both older ones are in college: one finishing first year, one his last. They spend so little time at home, they don't need a bolt hole, just a place to crash.

For the youngest two, however, the world has yet to expand beyond that refuge where they can close the door and defend it with every decibel they can muster.


The Beach Boys had a classic track: "There's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to; in this world I lock out all my worries and my fears - in my room."

In time, that room dissolves to reveal the big wide world and someday, somewhere in that world, they carve out a home of their own.

A home doubtless destined to be bashed, trashed and scrawled all over in crayon by yet more kids, who quickly become teens and take their tantrums off to a corner they can call their own too.

"Bloody hell," I mutter, closing the door to what was once the playroom and is now a de-facto den. Perched at the computer with her ukulele is the youngest, picking out the chords of some song or other.

"Yes?" she says, looking around and frowning irritably.

"Do you mind?" I grumble, shooing her out and slamming the door.

I go over to the desk and sigh as I put everything back just the way I like it.

"Kids," I sigh. Like they don't have a room of their own.

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