Here, at long last, The Holidaypedia, all the facts and figures you need to know about family summer holidays and the subsequent ordeal of returning to work – unless, of course, you were coerced into the hell that is the water park at Le Touquet, in which case returning to work will seem like a breeze and a delight and if you wish to kiss your desk and embrace it, everyone will understand.
The Holidaypedia, which is available from all average and less-than-average bookshops – the good ones tend to be pickier – is the first collection of its kind and proves once and for all what we have been saying all along: why stay at home and bicker when you can spend two grand, all get in a car, and go bicker somewhere else?
The following is not based on extensive, independently monitored research as we could not be bothered, but it is true all the same, and it will remain true for all time.
The boring questions you must keep asking yourself in the boring run-up
*Have I paid off the more outstanding of the outstanding bills so the bailiffs don't strip the house in my absence?
*Have I laundered everyone's clothes so that, should anyone wear any of them one single minute before we go, I can shout: "TAKE THAT OFF! IT'S FOR THE HOLIDAY. IF YOU DIRTY IT, I'LL KILL YOU!"?
*Have I purchased sufficient shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, deodorant, insect repellent, bite relief, face moisturiser, body moisturiser, Savlon, plasters and sun cream (factors 10, 15, 25, 50) because who is to say they will sell these items in northern France?
*Have I packed enough clothes so that I can afford to not wear 95 per cent of them?
*Have I unplugged everything at the wall because, even though I don't do this when I go out for the evening or when I go to bed, electrical fires can always sense when they have a whole fortnight to play with?
*Have I left the cat food and can-opener where the cat can reach it?
*Have I checked, double-checked and triple- checked all the passports, including the one for the dog, which seems a cruel trick to play on Mohamed Al Fayed (who still doesn't have a British passport), but there you have it?
*Have I ever thought about employing a German army officer or Israeli General to organise all this and if not, why not?
*Have I turned off the iron even though I haven't ironed anything since 1972 and am not sure if I even own an iron any more? (The poll we would have undertaken had we been bothered shows, quite clearly, that it is obligatory to fret about having left the iron on just as it is obligatory to fret about what to wear to a summer wedding even if you haven't been invited to one. As one woman told us: "I don't know what I'm going to do about a hat for the wedding I haven't been invited to." And: "I too, always worry about having left the iron on, yet do not own an iron." See? It's all true.)
*Twelve out of 10 women – that's a whopping 120 per cent – say that at some point they will probably feel obliged to make the following offer to their husband: "Do you want me to navigate badly now so that you can shout at me, or shall we save that for later?"
*Fourteen out of 10 women – 140 per cent! – say they can not help shouting "that way, that way, that way" at roundabouts; it's like a possession.
*Sixteen out of 10 men – 160 per cent! This research is unbelievable – say they would like it to be known that we are not lost, because it's around here somewhere.
*On the average family trip, 14 per cent of children whine "Are we nearly there yet?" within the first seven minutes, 16 per cent within the first nine minutes, and 100 per cent before you've even passed Brent Cross. (At this point, 789 out of every 10 mothers are minded to put their heads in their hands.)
*Number of airports which think that, now you are in the departure lounge, you will suddenly be overwhelmed by the urge to buy Hamleys' bubbles and a Mont Blanc pen: all.
*Number of airports which think that, now you have bought the Hamley's bubbles and the Mont Blanc pen, you will want to pay £10 to enter a competition where you could win a sports car, but won't: all.
*Percentage of Ryanair passengers who think Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary could not hate his customers more if he tried: 100. Percentage of passengers who say that, if Mr O'Leary charges for using the toilets in flight, they will pee in his aisles: 97 per cent (there will always be 3 per who let you down).
What all holiday cottages must contain, as if by law
*A knackered compendium of knackered games.
*A wicker basket of leaflets on local attractions, including the petting farm, where the children will glance once at the rabbits and then bolt for the playground.
*A septic tank attended by many scary, warning notices of the kind that implies you have already messed it up, which you have.
*A tea towel with a poem on it.
*A visitor's book written in – at length – by lunatics ("I had a lovely stay and enjoyed wearing my Victorian costume while pretending to milk a cow. Next year, I'll be returning so I can pretend to make butter ... ").
*A selection of left-behind paperbacks featuring, most prominently, Winston Graham's Poldark series.
*A fuzzy old portable TV which, at some point, was probably rented from DER or Granada.
*A copy of OK! so old that Kerry Katona looks quite fresh and cheerful.
Most overrated holiday experiences
The beach: although an ideal place for taking out your insecurities and hostilities on other families – "look at them, aren't they fat?" – a day trip rarely amounts to more than half-heartedly going into the sea until mid-calf, squealing "Don't splash me, don't splash me!" and coming out again.
The water park at Le Touquet: a stifling hot, chlorine-stinking, shrieking hell-hole which charges you full whack (£20) even if you just want to keep an eye on the kids, and do not wish to partake of the flumes. Still, it had occasional fun moments, particularly when the surf machine unexpectedly came on and everybody smashed their chins.
Quiet walks around old towns: teenagers will yawn in your face and groan: "I am sooooooooooooo bored."
Portuguese Fun Fairs: the horses on the carousel are real donkeys. People who have seen this with their own eyes stay sad for a very long time.
The laws of camping
*Everything that is dry will get wet and anything that gets wet will never get dry again.
*Rain will travel thousands of miles against a prevailing wind to drench a tent.
*When the family on the next pitch decide to give up and go home, you must shout "losers!" at them even though you are jealous and are hanging off their car door.
*All meals will be sausage followed by sausage unless it is Special K.
*You'll need a pee at 2am but can't face the storm out there, so you are now awake at 2.20am, 3.10am, 3.46am, 4.13am, 4.27am, 5.05 am, 5.20am 5.22am, 5.50am, 6.10am and 6.45am.
*At 6.45am you will think: "I wish I'd bothered getting up at 2am."
*There will be wasps during the day.
*There will be bugs at night.
*There will be a big spider in the shower block, permanently.
*The mud will suck your shoes off.
*Every day will be a bad hair day.
*You will sit in the car, with the heater on, crying and wishing you were in John Lewis.
Top things children never say on holiday, although wouldn't it be nice?
1. I could look at this view for ever.
2. I hope we are not nearly there yet.
3. I'll just write that postcard to Grandma.
4. You adults stay up if you like, but I'm bushed and am going to bed.
5. I have no urgent toilet needs.
6. Is it OK if I hang out my trunks to dry?
7. I'll be in shortly; I'm just going to get all this sand off.
8. These swimming goggles are now neither too tight or too loose; mother, thank you. You've adjusted them perfectly.
9. I'll just stand still while you sun cream me; have you missed a bit there?
10. I love trying new foods.
11. Can we go to a medieval church today?
12. That's enough ice-cream for me.
13. I'll do it, mum. You are on holiday too, remember.
And finally, some top holiday tips
*As the mother, never remember a picnic, or packed lunch, as this will deny the father days of complaining about the cost of snacks and beverages at major tourist sites. "I can't believe a bottle of Orangina was nearly four quid," he will keep repeating, as if you're interested, which you're not.
*Always take the initiative when it comes to car games – "Who wants to play Let's Be Quiet All The Way There? It's so much fun!" – otherwise you will have to follow the child's lead. If the child is young, this may involve a game of I-Spy along the following somewhat surreal lines:
Child: "I spy with my little eye something beginning with ... Lamppost!"
You: "Hmm. Tricky one. Sky?"
You: "Um ... I know, lamppost?"
Child: "No ... window! I won. My go again."
Check everyone understands the rules before you embark on any game. Put them in writing if necessary.
*Do not – not, not, not, not, not! – share a villa with another family. Even though it has always seemed as if you get on, and the children are the same ages, you will hate them by the second day. In fact, if the other mother says: "No one touch this cheese. This is Christopher's cheese as it's the only cheese he likes," one more time, you will have no alternative but to punch her in the face. In the build-up to the punch, you will have been miming screams behind her back and imagining a knife sinking between her shoulder blades and wondering if it would be that wrong to tamper with the brakes on their hire car.
*Avoid Brits, particularly in France, where they will go on and on about how the tomatoes taste better as if it has nothing to do with climate and we should simply try harder.
*Try separate holidays, although, generally, the kids will always find you in the end.
*Stay at home. Watch television. Save a couple of grand.Reuse content