We’ve followed our diarist Claire Bates through tears, tantrums and toilet training in triplicate. Now, with Number Three no longer a baby, Family Bates needs a new home. Standby for well… er… more tears and tantrums.
As soon as we swung into the driveway, I knew this had disaster written all over it.
“Is 5.30pm Ok?” the estate agent had asked.
“Perfect,” I smiled, already feeling sick.
Kids’ teatime is clearly not the perfect time to view a house.
And it was clearly not the time to view this house.
The manicured lawns and carefully clipped hedges definitely gave it Phil n’ Kerstie kerb appeal what it didn’t make it was appealing to a headachy Mummy with three small boys, tripping on Kinder eggs.
Bloke and I rang the bell, swapping that apprehensive look all parents swap when they know a toddler horror is about to unfurl.
A kindly lady came to the door.
She even smiled as two of our three flew past her flinging wellies (see, they have some manners…) at the door, squealing in the direction of the – horror-of-horrors – piano in the dining room.
“Remember what we talked about darlings – no touching other people’s lovely things,” I called out, pointlessly, for they were touching other people’s lovely things.
They managed two or three plinky plonks on the perfectly polished instrument before the not-so-kindly-looking husband closed the lid – firmly.
Number Two is now whining, Number One is huffing and Number Three….Oh God, Number Three is pulling down his trousers, looking for a loo.
It’s the third time I’ve potty trained, so I have a kind of Tim Henman-style defeatist attitude towards it. As soon as I saw the trousers lowering, I had a zen-like oddly calm acceptance of the fate that was about to become us.
Bloke, on the other hand, saw it as a challenge. He’s an Army officer. Apparently “all life’s problems are solvable with logic and determination”. Purleeease. He clearly hasn’t spent enough time with toddlers.
Leaping off the mark like a hunted gazelle, he launched forward, grasping at Number Three who – told you so – was already peeing on the cream (why wouldn’t it be?) hallway carpet and rather than doing the much-practised Mummy willy clamp (oh come on readers, you know you’ve done it), he compounded the piddling problem by lifting him under his armpits and running around from room to room trying to find the “recently re-fitted downstairs cloakroom”.
Kindly lady had a slight grimace on her face. Not-so-kindly husband asked if we would like a cloth.
We’d been at House A on our shortlist for about 20 minutes and I couldn’t tell you one thing about it, other than it had a piano, very light carpets and a carefully hidden downstairs loo.
It apparently had four very nice bedrooms – one en suite – a huge family bathroom and potential to convert the attic, but all I saw was the inside of the Volvo since three small boys were now clamped into their carseats while Bloke took some photos of House A.
House B couldn’t be as bad. Surely.
We found a bush for Number Three before we went in, we threatened them all with a visit from Scary Auntie Ruth With The Moustache if they misbehaved and were armed with six more Kinder eggs in our pockets.
A slightly stressed-out woman with two small girls answered the door.
This was looking more like it.
“Why don’t you take the boys to your playroom girls?” Stressed suggested.
“That would be WONDERFUL” I answered, in slightly too high a voice.
We made it into the open-plan sitting room, looked at the fab kitchen (she had one of those new soup makers I keep reading out in the food mags I buy but never cook anything from, this had to be the house for me) and just as we were checking out the huge utility room, it struck me.
The sound that strikes fear into Mummies the world over.
Bloke clocked it just as I did and, still with Pee-Gate fresh in his memory, rooted himself solidly to the spot.
It was clear I was in charge of this particular nightmare.
Trying not to look like I was running, I did a McDonalds-style speed hustle through the “wide open, airy hallway” towards what I hoped was the playroom.
It was, but it was also empty.
OK, where could five small people hide? Think, woman, think. The “boot room-cum-home office?”
The “integrated garage slash extra bedroom?”
Naturally, they were all naked in the “south facing sun room”.
My boys were ‘entertaining’ two bewildered girls with Willy Guitar. Excellent.
I estimate I’ve got less than 20 seconds to get all three dressed so instead opt for Operation GET THEM OUT OF HERE so push them quickly into the back garden just as Bloke and Stressed emerged from the boot room-cum-office which handily has another door to the garden.
Picture the scene. I’m bent over three naked boys in a total stranger’s back garden, telling them that if they stop playing Willy Guitar, put their clothes on and keep the whole thing as “our special secret,” I will give them chocolate.
Mother of the Year I ain’t.
A slightly sheepish Bloke thinks it will help if he explains that he taught them Willy Guitar “as a joke” a couple of days ago.
“I was fully clothed though, because I was in Sainsbury’s” he adds, like that’ll make it all better.
Exit Family Bates.
We really wanted that house but are too scared to book a second viewing, so my Mum’s going back, pretending to be one of those posh House Finder people that families with naked children would never employ.
I was recounting this story to a friend of mine over coffee and she remarked that it would be a good subject for my magazine column.
“At least this one will be true,” she laughed.
I stared at her, about to explain that every word of every one of my columns is true, when she added: “People can’t seriously believe your life is this tragic.”