Surviving Teenagers: The Phantom Vacuum Cleaner


Brace yourselves. Any minute now I'm going to pass on some shocking news.
Readers of this column will be aware that the teenagers in my house are impossibly messy. I won't go into all the details again. Just imagine how thousands of people would leave a field after a music festival and you get close to the state of my elder son's bedroom.
I once asked my younger son why he kept all his old bus and train tickets.
"They're bookmarks," he said. Silly me.
But the messiest person in the house by far is my 17-year-old daughter. I'm not allowed into her room any more because she can't bear the look of horror on my face. But from time to time, when the kitchen cupboards are bare of crockery, I do rush in for mugs, plates and glasses.

I feel like someone from the SAS on a vital mission, risking my personal health and security for the greater good.

"What," I said to my younger son, who was wandering round the kitchen spilling coffee, "do you think that is?"
We both peered into one of the rescued mugs. Something was growing in there. It had a mushroom-like surface and long pale whiskers.
"I think we should keep it," he said, "and see what it turns into." I'm not that brave.

I've given up suggesting to my daughter that she might like to put rubbish in a black plastic sack. I'm way past flourishing a damp J-cloth and a bottle of Cif. I don't even say, in a cheerful voice, "Anything need washing?" as I hover on the threshold.

"I just never go in there," says a friend about her 16-year-old daughter's bedroom. "What the eye doesn't see, the heart can't grieve over."
Last Friday I was sitting downstairs, talking to my Mum on the phone, when I heard a low droning noise in the background.
Once I'd mentally reassured myself that it didn't sound like the washing machine blowing up (again), I decided that our next-door neighbour must be hoovering. (Our house is a semi, so you can hear most things through the walls.)
It was only when I came off the phone that I realised the truth. The sound of hoovering wasn't coming from next door. It was in our house.

I stood there, my heart racing. There was no one home but me and my daughter. Do burglars try to allay suspicion by doing a spot of spring-cleaning? Do poltergeists use vacuum cleaners?

Shakily I made my way upstairs. There, on the landing, was my daughter. Holding the Dyson.
"That wasn't you," I said.
"It might have been," she said airily.
Legs shaking, I staggered to her bedroom. I risked a quick glance inside. I could see carpet.

Empty carpet. Clean, empty carpet.

"You hoovered," I said.
"So?" she said.
I told you it was shocking news.
Sadly, that wasn't quite the end of the story. This morning, when I put my head round the door for the third time to suggest she might like to wake up (she got from bed to pavement in about seven minutes, which may be a personal best), I noticed the carpet in her bedroom was lightly covered in a thin layer of shredded paper, like confetti, or freshly fallen snow.
I stood there, crestfallen. But I will cherish that memory of clean carpet forever.