Woe-de-woe, never again: Jean Rowe thought holiday camp would make her summer. Big mistake . .

I had begun to dread holidays as a single parent. Weeks spent in cottages in various parts of Britain always ended in tears. I would be alone with three small children, it would pour down constantly and, frankly, we would have been better off at home.

This year I was determined to be really smart. A holiday camp - yep that was it. The kids would have a ball while I read a book or two, rested and took comfort in the fact that, come rain or shine, my darlings were entertained. I made our reservations.

For the entire four-and-a- half-hour journey, the children chattered and screeched with excitement. Through the gates, coachloads of holidaymakers swarmed, car-loads emptied out into extensive car parks and then into checking-in areas, where masses of people milled around and were herded towards their chalets and caravans with welcome packs and keys. It wouldn't have seemed out of place if someone had tied labels round our necks with numbers on them.

Straight away I knew that I was not correctly dressed. Men, women and children sported the nylon strip shirts of their football teams. Women co-ordinated this fashion with high heels. Families attempted to keep their broods together against all odds as gaming machines beckoned.

We made our way across the camp to our caravan, passing rows of barrack-like huts. The caravans enjoyed a more pleasing aspect, with the odd tree and carefully mown grass breaking the monotony.

Within hours, all thoughts of curling up with a book were abandoned. Everywhere in the main activity area loudspeakers blasted, bingo callers wailed and disco music echoed, while from the leisure pool 'the wave machine will now begin' was heard at periodic intervals.

At first, my children believed they were in heaven so I kept quiet, telling myself to calm down, that I was having 'an experience'. But after the euphoria wore off, even they became sensitive to the downside. They began to complain about having constantly to dodge the camp bus/train and having to hold their noses as they passed the stagnant boating pool, whose smell was reminiscent of stinking drains in the summer heat.

We weathered one 'family night out' and after that ordeal I decided that evenings would be better spent in our caravan playing games as a family.

The children had been anxious to try out the Wild West Burger Restaurant. It looked from the outside like any hamburger joint and I confess I felt a small excitement at not having to do the cooking. But what was produced - at no cheap price - was inedible. On the way home I bought a Cadbury's chocolate roll, and ate the whole thing after the children had gone to bed.

Apart from entertainment which did not entertain, there were endless opportunities to spend money: ice-creams, candy-floss, video games, hamburgers, gambling machines, bars . . . you name it, it was available. I was constantly saying no to the children.

In my naivety I believed that the cost of the holiday would include a lot of the extras. What a mistake. Our week's booking was in excess of pounds 500 and I cannot even think about how much extra I spent.

On most days I planned outings to beaches or places of interest outside the camp. And as we drove up to the gates on our last day, not needing to collect a ticket for re-entry, I felt as if I had been set free. 'Bye-de-bye' we sang, without regret.

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