Deborah Ross: Our Woman in Crouch End

Six ways to survive the summer holidays for people who weren't meant to be parents
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Ah, school is out, the long summer is here, and how to cope with the kids? Here are some tips, for what they are worth, which I accept is very little, if anything, as I'm just the sort of person who should never have had children in the first place:

1: Set up an enquiry kiosk in the front room with a nice comfortable chair for yourself and some magazines, like The Economist or Prospect or the New Statesman, which will keep you bang up to date with the global coffee situation, North Korea's nuclear programme and Muslim theology but will leave you woefully behind when it comes to Jude having it off with the nanny, which is why I tend to recommend Heat and Now and Closer instead.

To protect yourself from your child's most frequent and annoying requests, put up a number of large unmissable signs, which will vary from parent to parent, depending on just how mean and irritable you are, but may include: "Do not ask for credit as refusal often offends, not that I care"; "It's good for you to be bored, although I couldn't say why"; "This is not a lost property office"; "If it's not your fault, whose is it exactly?" and "I am not a taxi".

However, you are, of course, open for all other inquiries except when you are closed, which is often, and always for lunch. Remember, it's your holiday too. C'mon, guys, give your mums and dads a break!

2: Much can be done with glitter, glue, pipe cleaners, felt tips and halved potatoes intricately carved with stars and hearts, but it's massively boring, the carnage is appalling, and do you really want another dried-pasta calendar which will shed vermicelli all over the floor for yet another year?

I do recommend cooking rice-krispie cakes, though, but only if you use the finest chocolate (420 per cent cocoa is good) because the kids, being sadly retarded in many areas, but no more so when it comes to chocolate, won't eat them and so you can. (This tip, by the way, comes from the illustrator of this page who, from the look of her pictures, you'd think butter-wouldn't-melt, but she's actually terrifyingly sinister).

PlayStations and computers are far superior alternatives, as is the telly. Call it "unstructured chill-out time" if it makes you feel better, which it invariably does.

3: The annual fortnight away is the focus for most families and, obviously, a great opportunity for mothers to use the skills they're assumed to have acquired at the University of Fiddly Swimming Goggle Adjustment. It is: "Mum, they're leaking! Mum, they're too tight now! Mum, they're leaking again! Too tight, too loose, too tight, too loose, too tight, too loose..." It is never: "Wow, mum, that's just perfect. You rock. Thank you so much."

Indeed, how my heart goes out to poor Gordon Brown who, because of recent events, had to call off his family trip to Cape Cod. How disappointed he must be as, like most parents, he was probably really looking forward to a transatlantic flight with a baby who simply will not settle for the crappy movie and headphones that only work in one ear. I don't know what Mr Brown's reaction was when he realised he had to cancel, as I am strangely not privy to such things, but I imagine he probably punched the air with a jubilant "yes, yes yes". (You should never trust a Cod in a Cape anyway. It's pretentious). As for Charles Clarke, he's the one I really feel for. He thought he'd got out of his family holiday, but in the end it turned out to be only a 48-hour reprieve, although that is better than nothing.

A good solution is simply to pack children off to their grandparents. The grandparents might say "we're too old" or "we've got our own plans" or "maybe when your father is out of intensive care" or "what, the whole six weeks?" and "the last time I looked after him he asked why my face was so cracked" but they're just being selfish and, when you drop the children off, it is only right that you tell them so. If you hang about to see them in, that is. Sometimes it makes sense just to ring the bell and run. "Surprise, Grandma!"

4: If you require paid-for child care, opt for someone hideous and overweight with a vile personality, otherwise your spouse might have it off with her. I mean, if it can happen to Sad Sienna, as The Economist never refers to her, what hope is there for the rest of us? Actually, hideous and overweight with a vile personality might not do it, as your spouse might not notice the difference and assume it is you. Better to get a big panting, bad-breath dog, like Nana in Peter Pan but, of course, this doesn't come with any fidelity guarantees either.

5: Long car journeys are an absolute trial. Right from the off, it is "Are we nearly there?" and "I'm hungry" and "I need the toilet" and "You said we'd be there in two hours, and that was four hours ago" and so on and so forth and sometimes, even, the children can be just as bad. Off they go, on and on and on, as if you don't have enough of your own whining to do. Eye-Spy is handy, or would be if it weren't such a tedious insult to the intellect. Temazepam - that is, double dose of - is significantly handier.

6: Those week-long courses in soccer, cricket, tennis, swimming, dried-pasta calendar-making (advanced) and so on are very useful, but pricey. To cut all costs, drive child to a field, abandon, and then see if it gets home before September. Call it an "intensive orienteering experience" if it makes you feel better, which it invariably does.

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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