Are we there yet?

Hey Mum, we're bored! Know any good games?

Is it possible to make long car journeys a pleasant experience for children? According to my brood, it can be done - but only if you break down on the way (and I don't just mean emotionally).

One of their best-ever road trips, they claim, was a snowy journey up the M40 to visit their Granny. There we sat, hogging the middle lane and occasionally pinching each other out of sheer boredom, when to their delight the car juddered to a dramatic halt. The very nice man from the AA could do nothing to fix our beloved old heap, and, to the accompaniment of squeals of joy from two small spectators, it had to be winched up and towed away. They still reminisce about sitting in the front of the recovery truck with the AA man, listening to exciting motorway rescue stories all the way to Brum.

On every car journey since then, my little treasures have kept their fingers crossed in the hope of a repeat performance. Our new old heap has yet to oblige. So while we're waiting I've had to come up with some other tricks to keep them entertained. CD stories come in useful - although admittedly "The Little Red Hen" rates a poor second to the real-life thrills of a motorway rescue team - and when these start to tire, there's always the argument over whether to play McFly or Busted to look forward to.

But when tempers get really frayed (usually within two minutes of getting into a car), I've started looking back to my own childhood for inspiration - and I've dredged up some powerful blasts from the past.

Remember 20 Questions? I always thought we played those games to keep my dad happy, but now I know better - it was just a clever ploy to stop me and my sister from throttling each other (and it even worked, for minutes at a time). There's a whole host of parlour/car games just waiting to be brought back to life, from name that tune and number plate games to that old chestnut, counting cows (you'll find lots more on familyfun.go.com). And the added bonus to all this new-found in-car frivolity is that there's no wandering off to watch The Simpsons half-way through a game (one of my most annoying habits, according to the kids).

But if you've exhausted all the old-fashioned ways of keeping your offspring entertained (breaking down, word games, reciting multiplication tables, shouting at them to shut up), don't despair; my children have the perfect solution. According to them, all you need to do is buy a new car with TV screens embedded into the seats - or, at the very least, install a portable DVD player in your old one (they're available from Argos, or see incarhoots.com if you want to rent one).

You can even get car PlayStations, but I'm not telling my kids. They get enough entertainment of the plugged-in variety, so I'm sticking to good old-fashioned fun and games for now. My favourite so far is "Who can be quiet for the longest?", which, by pure coincidence, was one of my parents' favourites too. Funny, though - I don't remember enjoying it quite so much back then.

k.holland@independent. co.uk

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