LAST SUMMER, when we had only two children, we had a final crack at going abroad and staying with other people, a gang holiday in which most of the gang were under four. It soon became apparent that this was the last year such a holiday would be possible, much less desirable. We all discovered that at night, when six children are screaming, it doesn't matter that you're in Italy. You might as well be in a Romanian orphanage.

For me despair came early, when I took a wrong turn out of the airport and was forced on to a road that had me bearing down on Switzerland at 130mph. I had to pay 5,000 lira and drive 20 miles before I could turn around. My wife barked out map coordinates, while in the back seat, two children and someone else's nanny blinked away silent tears.

I cheered up later in the week, which put me profoundly out of step with the other parents, who were getting crankier. Early morning breakfast duty quickly lost its clubby black humour, and it was soon understood among the parents on rotation that there would be no talking at all.

Under the circumstances casualties were light. There were no divorces and no one punched anyone. Our host suffered a minor nervous breakdown and I got an ear infection - nothing a few weeks back at work wouldn't fix. Oh, and my wife fell pregnant. Naturally it was a planned pregnancy, but it was planned for 2002.

I cannot imagine going on holiday with three children, but then again I don't have to. We are going on holiday with three children, in just two weeks, an enormity for which we are woefully under-prepared. We've got them all into the car only on a few experimental occasions.

This year, at least, we're doing the right thing and going into exile. My father-in-law's cottage in Cornwall should be remote enough to protect innocent tourists from our holiday. We're going to be there during the eclipse, an event set to bring chaos to the Cornish peninsula, so we should fit right in. We'll probably just stay in and make our own chaos.

Maybe I'm making too big a deal out of this. My parents took four of us on holiday every summer, driving nine hours in a much crappier car and dining with us in restaurants every night. We had fun aplenty back then. Of course there was the occasional tear, the odd petty squabble, some near tragic mishap, the temporary misplacement of my brother, the destruction of hotel property, my father's annual loss of temper, an entire dinner devoted to a discussion about how much everything was costing, the persistent complaints from the manager and the traditional midway point when my mother would burst into tears and solemnly announce that the entire holiday had been spoiled.

Oh my God.