Mail-order junkie by Genevieve Fox
I have seen them in the park. The parent walking off defiantly, the child red-eyed, barefoot, glued to the burning tarmac and wailing next to a pair of discarded rollerskates. The precocious child wants rollerblades; the parent has burdened it with hand-me-down skates. It is a war of attrition that the hot summer takes to boiling point. And it is only two weeks into the holidays. Forget the park. Go for good old-fashioned activity days: kits, crafts, activity and educational toys - and treats for adults.

The nippers are easy to cater for. Get them a painting kit - double-sided easel (pounds 19.99), non-spill (I merely quote the catalogue) paint pots (89p), paint blocks (pounds 3.99) and protective overalls (from pounds 3.49) from the Early Learning Centre. Throw in a collage kit (pounds 5.99) and a peg-doll kit (pounds 4.99) and you will never look back. On second thoughts, just get them a climbing frame tent (pounds 39.95). And take away the ladder.

For the older kids who complain about the interior decor, leave them in their bedroom with a glass-painting kit (Tridia Toys by Post, pounds 7.99). That will give the neighbours something to talk about. For non-Buddhists, its perspex ant farm kit (pounds 7.95) should prove diverting and it also has a wide range of theatrical performance products, including a slot- together puppet theatre (pounds 19.95), plus a floppy sun hat painting set (pounds 9.99).

By now you will have a young Bloomsbury set in the making. If the smaller children still need occupying, a supply of paper animal model-making kits (pounds 1.99) and some jigsaw books (pounds 4.99 for five) from Magna Books might keep them entertained.

Jewellery-making is another winning time-consumer. Janet Coles Beads has kits for children, as well as for adults (from pounds 3.25), using everything from seed pearls to wood to Venetian glass and semi-precious stones. Meanwhile, you could do something soothing such as sticking all those old recipes and gardening tips into a charming "recipes" or "gardening year" spiral-bound A5 notebook (pounds 9.95, Matthew Rice) and order some wine or jam labels (pounds 1.95).

Or, if gripped by a communitarian and creative spirit, you could all make some candles. Candle Makers Supplies has an introductory kit for up to 17 candles (pounds 19.50) or the child-friendly Waddington's Get Set Colour Candles Kit (pounds 19.95). You could progress to pineapple or dinosaur shaped candles (moulds from pounds 3.10) perfumed with tomato or gardenia (from pounds 3.10). Guaranteed to keep the midges away.

If the children need fresh air, send them out into the garden with koosh paddle, one of Hamley's best-selling summer ball games (pounds 14.99), or stick them on the pond with an inflatable-ride crocodile (pounds 12.99).

By now the dog will be feeling neglected, so pamper him or her with some bone-shaped dental floss (from pounds 5.99, Canine Defence League). Cheer up the baby with a pair of dazzling blue and yellow padders covered in teddy bears (pounds 6.99, Squidgy Things). And, last but not least: a lucky- dip case of wine from the Bibendum's bin-end sale, which starts today, could help you start the week with a life-restoring glass of Rabaud Promis '89 or Chateau Beau-Cite '71. At pounds 50 a case, it is a chance worth taking.

Candle Makers Supplies 0171-602 4031; Janet Coles Beads 01905 755888; Tridias 01225 469455; Early Learning Centre 01793 832832; Magna Books 0116 2785154; Matthew Rice 0171-371 9077; Squidgy Things 01374 560151; Canine Defence 0171-837 0006; Hamleys 0171-734 3161; Bibendum 0171- 916 7706