Contrary to what some people think, the purpose of holiday packing is not to cram as much of one's wardrobe into every available case and holdall.
Priority, instead, must be given to play equipment and toys. Spades, buckets, cricket bats, balls of all shapes and sizes, inflatable boats, oars, rubber-band aeroplanes, badminton rackets, nets, golf clubs and geological hammers should always take precedence over clothing. Especially sweaters – the attempt to pack which was always regarded by my father as evidence of unholiday-like pessimism.
The non-driving parent acts as in-car entertainments officer, organising sing-songs, choosing which CDs are played, and acting as compere for on-board games. These can include pub cricket (the batsman scores a run for every leg in the title of pubs passed, and each name lacking legs takes a wicket), and on-board treasure hunts. There's nothing quite like a car full of children tasked with singing out through open windows when they see a man with a silly hat, or woman wearing a colour clash, etc.
No child is ever likely to be excited by the kind of castle built by those flimsy plastic spades sold at beach shops. My motto: come prepared and bring a garden spade. Some swift work with a trusty Spear & Jackson, and your children will have an earthwork to entertain them for hours. And don't forget those little flags to stick on top of the turrets.
Shell collecting can have its moments, but, for bringing a day at the beach to a suitably rousing finish, there's "Find the rudest shaped stone" contests.
The essence of a good picnic is not, despite the exhortations of the colour supps' food faddists, the grub, but the location. A waterside venue is best, preferably by a stream small enough to be dammed as part of the après-fodder entertainment. And don't bother lugging around a huge cooler – just place your cans and bottles in the water for near-instant cold drinks.
Fishing for tiddlers
Always have a shrimping net in the car. And a beach bucket, or receptacle large enough to hold the catch for a few moments while it is examined. A lifetime's interest in wildlife may be created at such moments, or, failing that, a few happy hours splashing around.
At the exit of every ride and attraction, these grasping places have shops selling breakable toys at hideous prices. Tell each child at the start of the day that they have £5 to spend on toys, and it cannot be spent before midday. When they see something they want, they must summon a parent, and discuss the purchase. This avoids them buying the first thing they see and spending the rest of the day pleading tearfully for further funds.
Invariably more entertaining (unless you're being put in one) than the above, these are, for certain age groups, a much neglected hunting ground for wildlife and venue for instant history lessons. Besides, there's nothing so reliably good at making the little buggers realise how lucky they are than a tramp round some old boneyard, reading about how their Victorian counterparts regularly pegged out at an early age. Sounds gloomy, but it never fails.
Not yours, theirs. When children reach the age of 10 or 11, they suddenly cease to regard their parents as the most exciting people in the world, and tend towards teenage sullenness on holidays. The solution? Let them bring along a friend. Instant banishment of the sulks.
While prudence may be a virtue in March or November, it is a vice in August. When it comes to family holidays, save, beg, borrow and, if necessary, steal adequate funds. Look upon it not as spending, but – as my father called it – investing in memories. And the dividend comes not just at the time, but, repeatedly, as your children in years to come recall the happy days.