No milk...but plenty of bubbly!

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

THIS week I had a brief taste of what it would be like to be Octomum.

Three years ago Nadia Suleman, who already had six children, made headlines worldwide after giving birth to octuplets.

Having always wanted a large family myself, I was gripped by footage of her bottle-feeding her brood, musing on what it might be like to be surrounded by all that wonderful noise, mess and general chaos.

My husband, who is an only child, has never understood my desire to have a dining room table surrounded by little people.

He is perfectly content with the two we have got – enjoying them more as they get older – and probably secretly counting down the days until they leave home.

So it came as no surprise to me that, when I announced that five of my dearest mummy friends from London were descending on us for a day in the country, he decided to make himself scarce.

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The mummy friends were bringing with them their eight children – all under the age of five – to play with my two, making a total of 10 to feed and entertain over a nine-hour period.

I was in my element.

I spent three hours in Martlesham Heath Tesco, filling a trolley with six family-size pizzas, three packs of fish fingers, a huge bag of oven chips and a bumper selection of biscuits, as well as stocking up on teabags to keep the ladies going.

Then I popped to Beacon Hill Farm Shop for some homegrown veg – broccoli, a handful of carrots and a tub of strawberries – in the vain hope that I could keep the E numbers down.

Next I filled my garden with plastic toys, cramming them in alongside the climbing frame we bought for my son’s second birthday.

My daughter made Rice Krispie cakes, my son ate half of them while we were not looking, and I diligently cleaned and tidied.

I was keen to demonstrate to my friends – who were among the most sceptical of our move from London to Suffolk – why we had decided to up sticks in the first place.

“Why would you want to leave all this behind?” they had lamented. “Surely Suffolk is somewhere to spend holidays, not somewhere you want to live?

“Won’t you miss the theatre, the art galleries, Hampstead Heath, the M&S on your doorstep?”

“Perhaps I will miss M&S a little,” I conceded as I went on to wax lyrical about “fresh air, good schools, big gardens, a sense of community”.

“You will come and visit me, won’t you?” I ended plaintively.

They crammed into my house, laden with presents – flowers, cakes and cards.

One of my friends, who had been holidaying in Norwich, had even stopped off en-route at the excellent Shawsgate Vineyard in Framlingham to pick up a bottle of bubbly.

Children raced to various bedrooms, whooping with delight as they jumped on beds, upturned boxes of Lego and emptied the dressing-up box.

Muddy footprints decorated the hallway carpets, chocolate handprints smeared my walls and the toy drum was bashed until my brain hurt.

My husband was right to have absented himself. He would have hated every minute.

But it was the most fun I have had since I moved here.

Aside from the fact that I miss my friends terribly, I was also delighted to see my children get the chance to show off their new bedrooms, their playroom and all the hiding places they have discovered.

There is a lot to be said for having a house full. Every corner was brimming with laughter, there were so many children that nobody got left out, and games my two never get to enjoy because they are for four players or more were suddenly being re-discovered.

I sat smugly, cradling my sixth cup of tea, and hoped that my friends finally grasped why we had moved from our cramped flat in north London to this – a big home with enough garden space for a game of What’s The Time Mr Wolf to run alongside another of princesses and pirates.

And then the milk ran out.

No cause for alarm, you might think. But as I scrambled for my car keys – because like it or not, where the capital has corner shops, the countryside is decidedly lacking in convenience stores – I could see it on their faces.

Despite the extra space, the slower pace of life and the beautiful surroundings this county has to offer, the idea of not having the aisles of M&S on the doorstep when you ran out of semi-skimmed was simply unbearable.

I had one last shot at convincing them that I had done the right thing.

So I did what all mothers who are surrounded by pizza crusts, grubby children and a bomb-site of a house do: I reached for the bottle of Brut one of my guests had been kind enough to supply.

Tea cups abandoned and champagne glasses charged, one of my mummy friends cleared her throat.

“OK,” she announced. “I think I can see why you have done it. After all, I don’t know of any vineyards in Camden Town, and if you can buy bubbly like this in Suffolk, who needs an M&S?”

n Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions of places to go on our wedding anniversary. We are still trying to make our minds up. Please get in touch if you have any other recommendations to throw into the mix. Email me at or follow me on Twitter @EllenWiddup