I got a phone call from the cleaning company this morning.
"Hello, it's Domestic Divas here"
"Hi there, how are you?"
"Fine thanks, look, this is slightly strange. I'm calling because, Bev, she came to do your clean last week and she mentioned that...well...she said she felt a bit awkward because she thought you might have been...filming her..?"
Poor Bev. I should have left a note but predictably forgot. I was filming her, but not on purpose. The cameras have been here all week as part of a research project I volunteered for about media use in the home. I believe I have been representing 'the North' and 'young families' so should probably take this opportunity to apologise to those of you who either live above the Midlands or have children under 5 - I have let you down...
The guy from the agency came round a week ago to interview me and set up the equipment.
"I've just got a few questions," he launched in cheerily, "about how you use media, phones, tv, the iPad, that sort of thing. I see you've got a smartphone, how often would you say you use that to browse the internet?"
"Um, quite a lot."
"Any particular sites?"
Daily Mail sidebar of shame. Facebook. Daily Mail sidebar of shame.
"Well I use Facebook quite a bit and other social media...Mainly for business purposes."
Massive lie. I use social media, like everyone else, to clog up 325 newsfeeds with phone photos of my children and make sarcastic comments on pictures of friends who are thinner than me enjoying themselves on holiday.
"And do you use the internet to search for information?"
Mind races. My last three Google searches were 'Lose a stone in fourteen days', 'Can you train to be a doctor at 32' and 'My toddler ate guinea pig food'. But I'm pretty sure that usually I look up things like wholemeal carrot and flaxseed muffins to make nutritious children's snacks.
"Yes, I do, mainly recipes",
"Ok great, and what about television?"
"Oh, we don't really watch television" I said gravely. "I mean, I don't like the kids to watch too much tv, I try and get them to do other things, you know, like crafts, or we go to the park. I mean they do watch it sometimes, but only really after 4. And before 5."
"Oh-kaaayyy..." (he's writing things down) "and how about you and television?".
"Me?? Oh, I don't have time to make dinner let alone watch tv!" I laughed, before realising I don't exactly look like someone who regularly skips an evening meal.
<serious face> "I have to work in the evenings."
It went on. I answered his questions. He wrote some stuff down. He told me I had to use the computer and my phone in front of the cameras as much as possible and open all my post there too. He left two cameras whirring behind the sofa from which there was no place to hide. I left ten minutes later with the children to go to a wedding for the weekend. I spent most of the journey swinging between relieved that burglars would be caught on camera and imagining fireman sifting through the ashes of our possessions to retrieve electrical equipment that had overheated while we were away.
When we walked back through the door on Sunday evening I realised we were off to a bad start. We are not big drinkers but even we know that when you have both a hangover and children there really is no other place to sit except the sofa. And inevitably Nick Jr. babysat the kids on tv while my husband and I sat self-conciously together on the sofa taking it in turns to talk about feeling sick. Then we went to bed at the same time as the children.
The next day I felt much better. But then the reality of having almost no stock for a fair in five days hit me quite hard. So Day 2 was mainly me standing next to the computer, one hand creating a poster of the alphabet and the other turning the pages of Usborne's '100 Animals' for Henry to point at. He was not happy.
I was wearing pyjamas by 8pm but was pretty sure this would come across fairly Sarah Jessica Parker-esque because I was wearing make-up and took regular breaks to look pensively into middle distance and fiddle with my hair. I had popcorn for dinner but remembered to eat it in the kitchen.
Day 3 was less successful. I was starting to forget the cameras were there and slopped around with no make up on, sighing and chucking things around to find lost invoices and business cards and toddlers.
The kids watched quite a lot of tv and I was stressed.
On Day 4 Henry's sister had a massive tantrum. Really, really awfully huge. Horribly aware I was being filmed I pretended to be Jo Frost for an hour, calmly and consistently returning my contorting, screaming 4 year old to the bottom of our stairs every 20 seconds and saying 'this behaviour is unesseptibleeee' in my best Essex accent (turns out this is actually quite a good tactic).
Day 5 was even worse. The children watched more tv, we were all tetchy and stroppy and on edge. I realised at 9.30pm I was wearing deeply unflattering pyjamas with no bra and watching Holby whilst inhaling a share size pack of Giant Buttons. I was almost there with the work but at the expense of my patience and sanity.
I sat with my post on Day 6, smiling broadly towards the camera but inwardly sobbing at my credit card bill. There was a flyer for Mini Boden. I spent Henry's entire nap on the computer browsing soft-fit trousers for boys and t-shirts with boats on them.
In the afternoon, as the kids ran half-dressed around the house smearing soggy malted milks on everything they touched, I sat on my iPhone and looked at photos of Pippa Middleton shopping in Waitrose and Nigella Lawson being assualted by her husband. I was tired and grumpy and needed a break.
The days rolled on. Friends came round, children played, children shouted and laughed and cried. I made phone calls to plumbers and printers, mothers and husbands. I swung, seemingly relentlessly, between storytime and the naughty step, crashing at 8pm on the sofa for five minutes before sorting price lists and framing and invoices and Twitter accounts.
And all the time the cameras filmed us, this week of sinking into what felt like a black hole of low-quality childcare and poor self-maintenance.
Until Day 7 when the nice man came back and took the cameras away. And then it was the fair and I sold books and posters and charts and smiled all day.
I went home and we sat on the sofa and ate fish and chips and watched a film containing nudity.
Today I did the school run by bike and took the children to the woods to look for fairies. I made a shepherd's pie. I joined in 'let's chuck water over Henry' at bathtime and ignored the puddles on the floor. I lay in bed with Henry's sister in the dark, idly discussing why she can't ever have hair as long as Rapunzel and how large a cake would be at a 100th birthday party.
And I have spent quite a large part of the day cringing at the thought of Bev, duster in hand, wondering if this is Big Brother 17, or whatever it is now, and she's this season's twist.
I explained to her boss and apologised for not leaving a note.
"And were you happy with the clean?" she asked before she went.
I glanced round the room at the week-old biscuit crumbs, smeary mirrors and dusty shelves.
"Fantastic" I said, "thank you..."
I picked up '100 Animals' balanced on my laptop, next to the tv remote and an empty packet of Giant Buttons.
"...thank you very much".