SARAH VINE says her daughter’s ‘pit’ makes warthogs look house-proud


Before I begin, I would just like to say how much I love my teenage daughter.

She is funny, feisty and even occasionally affectionate; she works hard at school, always answers her phone and only very rarely asks me for money. 

Indeed, in most respects she is pretty fabulous, and I consider myself very lucky indeed to have been blessed with such a tolerable specimen of the breed.

But just because I love her does not mean I cannot also see her failings. One of which, I’m sorry to say, is that when it comes to the state of her bedroom she is, in no uncertain terms, a total and utter savage.

Not to put too fine a point on it, there are wild boar in the forests of Germany that are tidier than her. Mange-ridden alley cats that are more house-proud. Swamp-dwelling warthogs that are less likely to lay waste to a set of freshly laundered sheets.

So, when I saw the picture posted online by Sky News sports presenter Jacquie Beltrao of her son’s bedroom, I couldn’t resist a wry smile. 

This young man is a rank amateur compared with my daughter. He had no rotting, three-day old Taco Bell takeaways; no melted tubs of sticky ice cream; not even a hint of a pepperoni passion pizza stuck to the carpet.

No make-up encrusted towels, no discarded earrings or tweezers lurking underfoot, waiting to stab you in the toe. No dried-out face masks or lidless Sharpie pens — and chiefly no graffiti on the walls.

In fact, I would say that young Master Beltrao is the very model of tidiness, compared with what I encounter every time I venture across my daughter’s threshold. 

In fairness to her, it has always been like this. Bea — or Beast as we call her, for obvious reasons — has always been pathologically messy.

It’s not something she does on purpose and, over the years, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not something she can control.

She is a living, breathing version of the Peanuts character Pig-Pen — you know, the amiable little kid who is surrounded by a permanent cloud of dust, no matter how often his parents dunk him in the bath. 

Not so much now, as she has learned over the years and as a result of my incessant nagging, to contain her mess; but when she was small she could walk into any room and immediately, as if by some strange osmosis, create havoc.

It was almost as though she possessed some kind of weird superpower. Wherever she went it was like a small explosion of glitter, paint and a variety of unidentified substances, almost all of them sticky. 

Things would unaccountably detonate, or leak, in her vicinity. Everything she owned was either broken or smeared in something unspeakable.

But it was around the age of 11, when she started secondary school, that she really discovered her capacity for chaos. 

She graduated from a shared room with her brother to the converted attic of our house. Given her own space, I thought she might take more care with it. But instead the chaos expanded to fit the extra room.

Her favourite pastime was dismantling things such as toys, items of furniture and clothes to create other things — contraptions, small artworks etc — of her own imagining.

One night I heard odd noises and went upstairs to find she had fashioned a swing out of some dog leads and a skipping rope, and was hanging precariously from the handle of one of the Velux windows.

She also had a talent for biological warfare. She once created a ‘potion’ so toxic and so mysterious it melted the veneer of her Ikea bedside table. 

One year, her predilection for squirrelling crisps and sweets down the side of her bed — despite my endless attempts to stop her having food in her room — caused a terrible mouse infestation from which I, for one, have never quite recovered.

Occasionally, usually around 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, I would attempt to impose some sort of order.

Armed with a roll of bin bags, a pair of sturdy rubber gloves and some Dettol, I would climb the stairs to her room and get to work.

I would spend entire afternoons sifting through the rubble, only to discover that, two days later, things were as though I had never touched them. 

Once I lost my temper so badly with the mess I started throwing bits of furniture down the stairs. To no avail. The place always looked as though it had just been burgled by drunks.

Now she is 16, almost 17, I have finally given up. I surrender.

Apart from the occasional bathroom explosion — she still seems pathologically incapable of pulling out the plug from the bath, and the lid of the toothpaste is simply a concept too alien for her to even contemplate — she has learned to keep her chaos confined to her bedroom. And so we have, at last, achieved a cautious kind of peace.

From time to time I venture forth into the land of festering leftovers to collect mouldy mugs and the occasional fag butt. But mostly I leave her to it. Because the truth is she seems very happy in her pigsty. 

The graffiti on her walls, the stains on her carpet, the clutter of make-up and the tsunami of clothes — none of it seems to bother her.

In fact, I would go so far as to say they provide security and comfort to her. In the same way that I derive pleasure from sorting out the contents of the fridge, or rearranging the cushions on my sofa, she seems to feel happiest surrounded by mountains of chaos.

Nor does the mess seem to have any negative effect on her health — indeed, I suspect the increased exposure to pathogens has only served to strengthen her immune system. It seems to act as a refuge from the vicissitudes of being a teenager growing up in London.

Besides, if I’m honest, there is something rather comforting for me, as a mother, to pop my head around her door at night and find her fast asleep in a nest of crisp wrappers and revision cards. 

Not least because one day all too soon, I know that room of hers will be silent and tidy, and all the fun and chaos she brings to my life will have grown up and left home.

When I think of it like that, a bit of lipstick ground into the carpet seems a very small price to pay.

Standing in the middle of my bedroom, the floor strewn with clothes, make-up, shoes and damp towels, I can see why my mother — anyone’s mother — would have a lot to say about it.

It’s a mess, I know. The kind of chaos and clutter guaranteed to set any parent’s nerves on edge.

But here’s the thing: it’s my mess, in my room, which surely means my crumpled bed-sheets and untidy drawers have nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else. And yet, my parents — particularly my mum — get so het up about the state of my bedroom.

‘How do you sleep surrounded by so much clutter?’ she asks, somehow convinced my untidy bedroom has the power to keep me awake at night.

Very well, actually, because, messy as it might be, this is my sanctuary. I find it cosy and comforting to have my muddle of stuff around me and impossible to get ready to go out without emptying out the entire contents of my wardrobe first.

Anyway, doesn’t the fact that teenagers and untidy bedrooms go hand in hand tell you something?

We’re constantly being instructed what to do and how we must do it, whether we’re at home or at school. Rules, routine and order are imposed upon us at every turn.

For me, my bedroom is this one disordered thing — the place where I have control over what goes where; the part of my life I should be allowed to govern in peace.

I expect Mum thinks that the state of my bedroom is some cliched act of teenage rebellion; that I know how much it winds her up, and yet refuse to change my ways.

But this isn’t me being disrespectful. I just like to spread my things out around me — whether that’s my clothes, make-up or school work.

The fact that I take great care around the rest of the house to pick up after myself is proof of that.

I rarely leave food out in the kitchen and always wipe round after I’ve made myself something to eat. I take my stuff upstairs with me, never leaving my belongings around the house.

When friends come over, I take them straight up to my room, telling them they mustn’t make a mess anywhere else.

That’s because I see the rest of our home as being my parents’ territory, for them to keep how they like it.

But my room is my one small corner of the house that is entirely my own. Keeping it how I like it should surely be my prerogative.

Because who does my messy room affect other than me?

Well, actually, I suppose there was the mouse incident a few years ago. My parents kept warning me that if I continued to eat in my room, allowing crumbs to gather under my bed, I might as well invite rodents to move in with me. 

And yes, they were proved right, and it caused considerable inconvenience and expense to get rid of them.

I was desperately sorry about that, and having learned my lesson I don’t let food fester in here any more.

But Mum won’t let it go. Four years on and she still brings up the mice. In her eyes, I’ll always be the savage whose slovenly ways invited rodents into her bedroom.

And honestly, I do understand her frustrations — she likes things tidy; I don’t.

But there’s a really simple solution that would make her feel so much better: stay out of my room, and then what she doesn’t see won’t upset her.

With that in mind, I’ve started putting furniture up against my bedroom door, effectively barricading myself in.

She says she finds that annoying, too — but the way I see it, I’m just helping her to avoid the upset of seeing all my lovely mess behind it.


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