Day four in the Big Holiday house. The dog is in the garden digging up my husband's hostas, the builder is in the bathroom grappling with my U-bend and I am in the kitchen with son number one. He has just come back from uni to give me the benefit of his superior knowledge, his smug Guardian politics and a term's worth of unwashed towels. He is helping me manage the refurbishment of the downstairs bathroom by pimping out his interior design services in exchange for 15 Swedish meatballs and permission to spend the rest of the month in bed. He asks me what we need to buy.
Five minutes later, frustrated with my ineptitude, he solicits the help of the builder and returns with a comprehensive list: bathroom vanity unit (double sink - in case the bastard comes back, or I get lucky), quadrant shower cubicle (900 x 900), ceramic tiles, laminate flooring, damp-proof membrane, chrome ladder radiator (700 x 500), tile and grout adhesive (5L), one tea, two sugars and a half-coated chocolate digestive. Even with my vestigial knowledge of DIY, I recognise that this is more than just a jolly to Ikea. I shudder at the prospect of the day ahead. There are some things in life that women should never experience: Deep Purple, Extreme Fishing with Robson Green and plumbers' merchants.
We begin our quest in the Ikea restaurant. While my son enjoys his spherical indeterminate meat products served with a coulis of red berries and chips, I grab a coffee and whiten it with "Millac Maid" which, according to its packaging, "tastes like fresh milk". Maybe to a thirsty cat with nasal polyps, but it wasn't fooling me. We abandon our drinks and head to bargain corner in time to nab the last birch-veneered his 'n' hers vanity sink unit. After navigating our trolley through the busy car park, we return to the Berlingo, which is hogging the last parent and child space, much to the annoyance of the red-faced couple in the people carrier with the triplets screaming in the back. Maybe they will think twice before their next IVF. We finally manage to squeeze the 1,200mm unit into the back of the car and jam it in place with some Year 10 coursework folders that have been sliding around the car since last Friday. Phew. One purchase down, six to go.
Screwfix is our next destination. It feels as alien as a chemistry lab on a double cover. The place is packed with plumbers: you can't move for DeWalt boots, Florida tans and rubberised Nokias. I hand over the product codes I have taken from the company's website, but their computer fails to register them. A supervisor is called. Apparently there are discrepancies between their online catalogue and in-store stock. I sympathise. We have the same problem in school - our CMIS database system regularly records target grades so much higher than the pupils' potential that a colleague recently nick-named it "semen" because it "pumps out a load of old wank".
In the shop, a kindly builder finally takes pity on me and helps me process my order. I leave proudly carrying an 8.5KW electric shower, a radiator and two 15mm vertical valves. I watch him disappear into his red Mitsubishi pick-up and wonder if he would care to share my double sink.
Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.