My husband was adamant: "Christmas is exhausting. Let's go away and let someone else do all the work." Having only recently moved house, the prospect of four days away, with no last-minute shopping or entertaining relatives, was extremely enticing. Our four children were not keen, but, we assured them, it would be fun, we'd take all the presents, and be by the sea.

We arrived on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve, to find the entrance to the car park blocked by a huge coach. We were shown to small, dingy rooms by an aged retainer who could barely lift a handbag, let alone heavy suitcases. Our room was stifling hot, while the two children's rooms were freezing, with no radiators. Carpets were threadbare, and the bathrooms antiquated. There was a strange fusty smell to the whole place. The small and shabby pool looked as if it belonged in a hospital orthopaedic department.

We were late going down for dinner. As we all trooped into the room, we viewed a sea of silver heads all bent over their Brown Windsor soup. Then, the same heads all seemed to look up in unison as we made our way to our table, which was placed, oh heavens, right in the middle of the room. It was as if we had stumbled into an old folks home by mistake.

Christmas Day dawned early. We were awoken by a bath being run at quarter past four, and the ceiling floorboards creaking as someone walked around shouting to his spouse. We could almost hear every word. The children were awake an hour or so later, not from excitement, but from cold and boredom. We all spent a cheerless hour, crowded in our room, opening presents and wishing inwardly we were at home by our own fireside. After breakfast, my husband went to complain.

"You should have told us only old people come here," he rounded on the sheepish looking manager. "We're checking out immediately." So we were faced, on Christmas morning, with the prospect of a long drive home in the sleet, with no Christmas lunch. The cases re-packed, the presents stuffed into the boot, the children all moaning, my husband strode out to the car, victorious. He'd managed to find three rooms at a modern city centre hotel in Exeter. We could eat properly this evening.

The new hotel was practically empty. No festive atmosphere at all, but our rooms were warm, we could sit anonymously in one of the huge lounges and read our books. There was a proper gym and swimming pool, the bathrooms were modern and the children could watch satellite television to their hearts' contents.

That said though, when anyone groans about the hard work involved at Christmas these days, I remember that ghastly Yuletide and tell them I don't mind mass catering and my house being invaded - it's all part of the fun.