Park Life: How to survive a Club 7-10 holiday

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The Independent Culture
THE THEORY and practice of happy family life, I have learned over the past 10 years, require a heavy schedule of activities for the children by day in order that they peg out in the evening, allowing the adults some time to themselves. "Dad, I've got too much bounce in me," Darcy will announce if he has not burned off enough energy as bedtime approaches, to cure which I might prescribe 10 quick sprints to the end of the garden.

The excess bounce problem is especially virulent during the school holidays, when the boys are not deflated in the daily Darwinian struggle against their classmates. So I put my activity plans into action, and at various times on past holidays I have found myself wondering smugly why parents in Italy or Spain still have young children knocking around at midnight.

But this year, in the heat of Turkey, my theory collapsed on Day One, and we found ourselves adopting the Mediterranean model of easy days and late nights for all the family. Even the bounciest of seven-year-olds feels flat when the mercury hits 90 degrees by 9am and Darcy was quite happy to while away a large chunk of the day reading books or making lists of the fish he would catch if he could be bothered to nag me into taking him fishing.

This meant a large element of my planning and packing was jettisoned. A set of beach tennis bats accompanied us most afternoons, but it was always too hot to get them out and play.

Instead, we each bought a pair of flippers, a snorkel and a mask at the market and discovered the perfect lazy sport for 100 degree weather: lying face-down in the Aegean in the desultory pursuit of fish, octopus, urchins, old car batteries and anything else of interest in the clear shallows. Darcy has now taken his inability to swim one stage further: "Watch me, I can swim really well," he boasts, "with my flippers on."

As for the telescopic fishing rod he had invested in, Darcy caught nothing but clumps of seaweed and I spent what seemed like hours untangling the line. None of the local fishermen - the only ones who ever caught anything - went in for rods, preferring simple plastic spools of line rigged up with bits of bread on a cork float, total cost about 50p; the most expert eschew even the plastic spool, improvising with an empty beer bottle to wind their line.

My resolution to keep fit melted in the heat, although I did manage a couple of runs, reasoning - like Gazza training in a heavy jacket to make himself sweat more - that five miles on a Turkish mountain road in the heat of the day was worth twice that at home.

The villagers were mightily amused and, had any known Noel Coward, would no doubt have greeted me with a chorus of Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Most of them spoke little or no English, but they did know enough to shout "Faster" as I passed, most often a passing taxi in a cloud of cigarette and petrol fumes. A couple of times, I was called on to muster a bit of bounce when I was cajoled into a late afternoon game of beach volleyball by a man with a large pot belly and an extraordinary hairstyle - shaved back and sides, long and fluffy on top.

This was not the glamorous, athletic sport popularised on Copacabana beach, featuring Brazilian beach bums too rich to play football, but a group of middle-aged Turks and their teenage kids who felt - like I did - that you can't spend the whole holiday in the water or in the bar. We reached the end of the holiday without any problems at all in the bounce department; then we boarded the flight home, which, being the cheapest I could buy, departed at 3.30am.

Our fellow travellers, most of them club 18-30 types and knackered from a fortnight in the bars and clubs of Bodrum, fastened their seat belts and fell into a deep slumber. Club 7-10 to my immediate left, by contrast, over-stimulated by air conditioning and the excitement of the flight, bounced up and down, spilt their breakfast trays, sang along at the top of their voices to the piped pop music and made a general nuisance of themselves for most of our four hours aloft.

They paid for their sleepless night the next day, drifting around the house like sulky sleepwalkers as we unpacked.

Finally, Darcy suggested a quick kick-around in the park, and I, stiff, travel-weary and as thoroughly de-bounced as the boys, agreed to 20 minutes.

There were no coats for goals, no score-keeping, no parody John Motson commentary, just a silent and measured pass-control-pass, as if in a trance, in the mild English afternoon sun. It certainly felt like home.