The only way to get through the summer holidays without murdering your children is to plan each day's activities with ruthless military precision
`0800, Monday 14 July. Children to begin summer school. Packed lunches, swimming costumes, change of knickers for Charlotte." "0800, Monday 4 August. Children to mum's. Pack suitcases, get Beth to pack her books. Remember Wellingtons."

And so it goes on. The only way I can possibly survive the holidays without murdering my children is to plan them like a military campaign. Two weeks before the end of the school term I got the spread sheets out on my office floor.

If you want to see either my four-year-old or my nine-year-old daughter over the next few weeks weeks, I'm sorry, they're both booked up. I have to admit that this much planning has not been easy, and has required a great deal of skill and imagination. It has taken endless ringing round, and lots of driving to local arts and leisure centres to find out what's going on. It has also taken a number of my friends by surprise.

"Tuesday, 22 August. Could you fit both the girls in for a visit? And is it possible to provide tea? What activities will be offer? Zoo and swimming? Sounds fine. I'll have them with you by nine. Oh, and I can have your girls on 16 August. Ten-ish sound OK? I'll have them back by six. Thanks."

Down goes the receiver, and out comes the diary. 22 August is red-felt- penned. Another blank day filled. My children look at each other and wonder if they will survive the holidays. It is my intention that their feet will never touch the ground.

It's not that I don't like my children. It's just that if I have them at home for more than a day at a time I begin to go off them, and I don't think that's very healthy when you have them around for such a long time. They're usually fine for the first few hours. They share Barbies and make dens. I lurk in the kitchen reading the paper, occasionally calling up that we'll make some biscuits "in a little while". Then the nine-year- old traps the four-year-old's fingers in her bedroom door. An unearthly wailing fills the house. I sympathise and offer plasters. My nine-year- old says, "You love Charlotte more than me." I say I don't, quite reasonably. Then she slams her bedroom door and I begin to feel a bit less reasonable. Soon we are all in the tears and the retriever starts dialling the Samaritans.

This only happens on days when I have nothing planned which involves them not being here. I can cope when I know that they will soon be out, doing something mind-enlargening or healthily physical. The best mix is something that a) teaches them a new skill so I can feel smug and b) makes them very tired so they fall asleep as soon as they get home.

This year I have planned what I think is a wonderful balance of activities. The first week was the summer school, which was held at their normal school. This involved lots of arts and crafts, swimming, walking and drama. On the downside it was expensive, but on the upside I dropped them off at nine and picked them up at six.

Going to my mum's fulfils a two-fold purpose. They get to stay with my mum, whom they adore. She does lots of educational things with them, as she is a former teacher. Because they love her so much, they happily trail round museums and stately homes. With me, they would be rolling their eyes and dying as soon as we got through the door. They also get to see their cousins, and do lots of running around and shouting at the top of their voices, which is great, because I'm 200 miles away, lying in the bath reading a book without a naked four-year-old climbing in with her plastic squeaking penguin.

This week is a "friends week". This is carefully planned so they meet up with all the friends they did not see at summer school and were painfully separated from while they were at my mum's. This may look like a careless throwing together of random events, but don't be fooled. There is a pattern to the week which means they are home one day, away the next. I play hostess with the mostest one day, taking them swimming, making chips and fish- fingers with a good grace while four girls of varying ages shriek in and out of the house, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow this will be someone else's problem.

Thursday is Stable Management Day at the riding school, which is especially popular with both me and the children. It's popular with them because they are both passionate about horses, and with me because they are extremely tired at the end of it.

The holidays roll ahead. The week after we are all away en famille in Scotland. I am ashamed to say that once again I have been scheming, in that we are going away with my husband's parents, who are not only very good company but who also say, "Och, don't worry, have a lie-in tomorrow. We'll get up and take the girls fishing." Only if you insist, I say.

Then they are both on another summer course. This involves pottery and drama, with the possibility of short tennis. My nine-year-old is not convinced about this, but I think short tennis would be a jolly useful skill to have, especially if you met Prince Edward and had nothing in common. The week after my four-year-old is on a swimming course. Then we go away again to Cornwall with another family and then - hurrah! - they are back at school.

My nine-year-old has taken a long, hard look at this diary.

"When do I get to play?" she says.

"On friends days," I say.

"But I want to play with you," she says.

"I'll have to see if there's a window in my diary," I say. "How's 11 October for you?"n