Nowhere to run to from our teens
ONE thing guaranteed in a house which accomodates two adults, three almost-adults and an almost-teen is that privacy comes at a premium.
Just ask the almost-teen, erstwhile youngest, who just started secondary school, but make sure she's not getting dressed when you do, or she'll let out a scream that shatters your ears, slamming the door so hard it breaks the sound barrier about two millimetres from your face.
"Oops," I tell the door. "Sorry. "
"Go away," comes the muffled wail.
I can't resist giving the door handle a last rattle before running off on tip toes.
"GO AWAAAYY-AGGGGH!" she shrieks.
We're a house, it seems, of doors opening at inopportune times. I've just spent half the summer coming home to the second- eldest and his friends, opening the door to the kitchen to find the cast of The Inbetweeners awkwardly frozen in the act of having a conversation that's evidently not for my ears.
Due to start college, the second-eldest has, in fact, rather taken over the ground floor of the house lately, sleeping in the playroom because, he says, he can no longer stand sharing with his brother in the loft.
This means that I am constantly walking in on him and his girlfriend, then having to fumble around because I've forgotten what I actually came in for - a minute's solitude, probably.
My office, through double doors with large glass panes at the back of the kitchen, has become the rehearsal space for his group 'Insidious Spawn' (or something) in the run up to a Battle of the Bands. So my wife and I could routinely be sitting at the dinner table, politely slurping spaghetti as the lead singer whips her hair around in the air to a bone-shaking drum solo just a few feet away through glass.
It's difficult to know who's inconveniencing who, but I strongly suspect it is us, so we dab the sauce off our chins and show them a thumbs up as she wrings the microphone with both hands, one foot up on my desk.
In the living room, at least, we retain some modicum of privacy - until, that is, some Thunderbird puppet from the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses calls to the house and a teenager opens the front door, then the door adjacent, in to us, so that the stranger's head can poke around the door frame and see us slobbed on the sofa under an old blanket with our wine in hand and chocolate all over our faces.
Perhaps our final retreat, as in any house, is the toilet, of which we have four - two with showers (only one of which works), and one with a bath which we keep as a sort of giant, open-topped, rectangular funeral urn for dead insects, as it hasn't seen water since the last time the roof leaked.
The only working shower for some time now has been in the en-suite of the eldest's room, meaning a steady procession of people in towels past his bed each morning. I suspect the shower by our own bedroom could well be in good working nick, but I'd rather the daily parade take place past the eldest.
Just the toilets have locks on the doors (though I'm close to putting bolts on the sitting room) and a sure sign that neither my wife nor I can find much peace anywhere else in the house, are the piles of books and magazines above the cistern.
The toilet off our bedroom, in the furthest corner of the house, resembles a small, rather unkempt library and it's here that we take turns hiding away from the after-dinner arguments over dishes downstairs, or the last bass-drum barrage of band practice.
Typically, even this sanctuary is subject to a sort of sub-clause of Murphy's Law, along the lines that all you have to do is take your trousers down and sit for 30 seconds before your daughter, in this instance, begins shouting your name.
(Halfway up the stairs):"Where ARE you?"
(Clutching my face): "Here."
(Upstairs landing): "Where's HERE?"
(Through my fingers): "Here. Here. In here."
(Getting closer): "Where's 'in here'?"
(Exasperated): "Here. In here. I'm on the TOILET. What do you WANT?"
"Oh, I'm off to school now."
(As nicely as I can manage): "Well, good luck with that, darling."
A few seconds later, the bathroom door handle rattles and I realise, with no small amount of dismay, that I haven't put the little bolt across. "Um, hello?" I say.
The handle rattles madly again and I'm waddling halfway over to snatch the lock closed when the door swings open and I'm greeted by the sight of the dog.
"New trick?" I mutter. The dog blinks at me. "Great," I tell it. "Just great."