05/09/2011 11:02 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Surviving Teenagers Or What The Neighbours Saw

Messy teenager's bedroom PA

I went over the road to thank my neighbour for feeding the cats while we were away on holiday.

'I think Sidney really missed you,' said Adrian. 'He didn't eat much.'

Sidney, our 12-year-old ginger tom, plays hard to get. When you try to show him affection, he flattens himself to the ground so that you end up stroking thin air. But he doesn't like it when we go away. He pines.

Last year, he lost so much weight he looked like a deflated balloon. Or perhaps a burst hot water bottle in a fluffy orange cover.

'One morning,' said Adrian, 'he didn't even come downstairs. I looked for him everywhere.'

'Oh, yes?' I said, pleased that I'd left Sidney in such capable hands.

'I found him in the end,' said Adrian, 'under the bed in your loft room.'

My smile froze.

'In the loft room?' I said faintly.

Like my mother and my grandmother, I always try to clean the house before we go on holiday. It's not just emptying the fridge so we don't come back to liquid broccoli and mouldy cheese. It's also rushing round at the last minute flinging clothes back into cupboards and hoovering the carpet.

It's a self-protective mechanism, really. Post-holiday blues are bad enough without wading through old newspapers and thick dust.

But this year, I ran out of time. So I did what I could, and yelled at the teenagers to tidy their rooms.

Just before we left at some ungodly hour of the morning, I realised that I'd forgotten to pack an adapter. So I rushed up to my eldest son's bedroom. He has the attic room at the top.
I stopped, aghast, at the threshold. Every single surface, including the bed, was piled high with clothes, books, CDs, old socks, bits of paper, dirty coffee cups, wires, leads, used train tickets, newspapers, plastic carrier bags, DVDs and bits of stray cash.

The chaos was breathtaking. If anyone saw this, I thought, they would think we lived like pigs.
But of course they won't see it, I reminded myself with relief. The neighbours are coming in to feed the cats, but there won't be any reason for them to come up here...

'In the loft room?' I said to Adrian. In my mind was a picture of my son's room as I had seen it in the cold dawn light.

'Yes,' said Adrian. 'I coaxed him out in the end, though. He's a lovely cat, isn't he?'

Maybe, I thought miserably as I trudged back across the road, Adrian didn't even notice. He's a man, after all. Maybe he was so intent on comforting the quivering ball of ginger fluff that he didn't even realise he'd inadvertently strayed into a rubbish tip.

But I couldn't quite convince myself. There is something jaw-droppingly extreme about the mess that teenagers make.

I just hope, I just desperately hope, that Adrian didn't think the attic room was mine...