Private Lives: Preparing for the worst

Forget about the nightmare of a holiday spent with the family. Simply getting ready for it is horror enough.
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The Independent Culture
THERE HAS to be a reason for that weary comment (a cliche, but still true) that the problem with family holidays is that when they are all over you need another one - preferably by yourself. For me, it's the agony and stress that goes into holiday planning. I find myself asking yet again: "Now, boys, have you got everything? And I mean everything, because I'm not taking responsibility for what you forget."

"Mum, Mum," says Lewis with an air of hysteria, "You only asked us to pack our toys."

I've been washing for three days and we've all been wearing the same clothes for a week. I mean, I'm not travelling with dirty linen and I'm certainly not coming home to more than the normal three-ton load. There's still two kilos of green beans in the fridge so we'll have them for breakfast. Perhaps I could drizzle some fine olive oil over them, sprinkle with breadcrumbs from the last stale loaf and pop it all under the grill. If we all wear sunglasses we can pretend we're already in Italy.

The wardrobes and the fridge are now empty. If we sit at the kitchen table for the next 24 hours I won't even have to make the beds. I'm just about ready for three days in the car when my husband asks, casually but firmly, if I've managed to collect his cleaning, buy film and get currency? When I suggest I could maybe put a brush up my arse and sweep the stairs at the same time, he stomps out muttering something about being just like my mother.

How did we get to this point? This year's summer holiday began the moment we arrived in our rented Spanish house last year. "Yes! This is great," we said. "We'll book it now for next year." Two weeks later the thought had vanished and we arrived home relieved not to have to think about the next holiday for at least six months. January is the serious time to start planning. So by May we finally get around to discussing it like a domestic chore that must be done.

I want to go to a very expensive hotel in a beautiful European city where they change the sheets and towels every day and where the washing miraculously disappears and returns before you've noticed. My husband wants a house where he can read in the shade by the pool all day, moving only to cook gourmet regional meals. The children just want to go to Alton Towers.

The children suggest a canal boat or an activity holiday. But the thought of being with them all 24 hours a day in a space no bigger than my downstairs loo is enough to bring on a divorce.

I try to explain to my husband, in my most conciliatory voice, that a villa holiday is not really a holiday for me. There's still all the washing, shopping and cooking to be done. Not to mention the children, who require round-the-clock entertainment. They're too young to take out for dinner and I'm not leaving them with a strange babysitter.

Over the next week we "discuss" which kind of house we want. I want one with a village we can walk to for a drink and a meal. He wants one where the only sound to be heard is the hissing of the local snakes. The children just want to take all their friends. Of course we find one eventually that has everything we need, provided we take at least another eight members of the family with us to cover the cost.

"Darlings," I coo, "Isn't it lovely, we're going on holiday with both sets of grandparents, Uncle Sam, Auntie Jessica, Henry and Lindsay?"

"Are we ever going to have a family holiday that's just just us and you and Dad?" whines someone.

In the end it really does all work out swimmingly. Everybody is leaving from a different airport or train station and we're all to arrive on different days at different times. The children don't want to come, and my husband is too tied up at work to be excited. And quite frankly, he says, it's not exactly the sort of holiday he would have chosen anyway.

And me? Well, I must finish the washing, brief the daily, pay the gardener and milkman, cancel the papers, pack, get the car serviced, persuade my husband it's going to be marvellous and tell the children to stop complaining and be grateful that Mummy and Daddy can take them on a holiday at all.

I wanted this piece to be constructive, but I can't think of anything constructive to say. How about don't have children, or don't go on holiday?