My So-called Life: Whose idea was half-term anyway?

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The Independent Online

As a well-known childcare expert and author of the bestselling Childcare, by a Well-Known Childcare Expert with Lots of Childcare Expertise*, I am often asked how best to cope when schools selfishly close for half-term so that teachers can laugh at parents who now have to look after their children themselves (as if!). Here is my advice, all of it good, because I am an expert in this field:

As a well-known childcare expert and author of the bestselling Childcare, by a Well-Known Childcare Expert with Lots of Childcare Expertise*, I am often asked how best to cope when schools selfishly close for half-term so that teachers can laugh at parents who now have to look after their children themselves (as if!). Here is my advice, all of it good, because I am an expert in this field:

1) Do not be afraid to ask grandparents to muck in as they are, on the whole, lazy good-for-nothing idlers who play bridge a lot and attend lectures at "The Institute" and watch black-and-white Hollywood films in the afternoon while having conversations along the following lines:

"Jimmy Cagney. Dead now."

"Judy Garland. Dead now."

"James Stewart. Dead now."

"Marlon Brando. Just."

Although it will doubtless break your heart, you may wish to leave your children with them from 7am to about 9pm, with, perhaps, a good supply of overnight wear just in case you're hard pushed to pick them up in the near future. Grandparents may protest and say things like "helping out is one thing", and "this is ridiculous", and "we have a lecture to attend at the Institute", and "we're too old to run about after little ones", but they're just being silly. There are lots of things you can do with children while sitting down, such as rowing. Plus, I can't think of a grandparent who wouldn't like bobsleighing, if only they'd try it.

2) A good childminder is worth her weight in gold. Get a list of registered childminders from the local council, and when you meet each one, ask yourself the following questions: is she friendly and accessible? Is the environment safe? Are the children encouraged to play? Are other parents satisfied with the service she provides? Would she be happy having the kids for several months at a time? Should the first minder on the list turn out to be a big, fat chain-smoker with cold sores and muzzled Dobermanns and a condemned electric fire in her 29th-floor flat with no fire escape, do not dismiss her there and then, especially if she is available to start that very afternoon. It is easy to be prejudiced against such people, particularly if, for example, she leaves her flick-knives and matches lying about, but if you want the rest of the day off, it is essential that you try to move through it. She may even be a lovely person under all those tattoos.

3) Should you actually go on a family outing - once every several years is sufficient, otherwise it stops being a treat, and who can be arsed, anyway - you will find that wherever you visit, the exit route will take you through a gift shop. This will be full of novelty erasers, pencils with springy things on top, and, in the case of London Zoo, frog slippers, blow-up giraffes and bumblebee ear-muffs. The child will, of course, wail for one of these, if not all of them, and, when refused, will scream all the way home, possibly until they vomit. In this instance, it is important that you say in a very firm voice: "Here's a tenner. Get what you want." And you must stick to this, unless the sum is insufficient for both ear-muffs and slippers, in which case you will have to up it to £20.

If you behave like this consistently, children will soon learn that they can have whatever they want when it comes to rip-off souvenirs in crappy gift shops, and so tears will always be avoided. Some people say that you don't need a lot of money to entertain children but they don't know what they are talking about, possibly because they are not childcare experts who are experts in childcare, like me.

4) To help someone else out during these difficult half-term times, never accept care of a small girl dressed in dungarees with a jumper on top and then a coat on top of that. Should you venture out, she will unquestionably say at some point that she needs to answer a call of nature. This means finding a public toilet, which will inevitably be smelly and tiny, and then, with the walls grazing your elbows, you will have to undress her, layer by layer. (You may find that she is wearing tights with pants on top as well as under.) This may take an hour. Then, once seated, she'll do a teeny, whispery fart before announcing "Finished." Finished? I've spent an hour undressing you for one teeny, whispery fart, and now it'll take me an hour to get you dressed again, you'll think.

This may be your sister's daughter, in which case, when you next see her, you may wish to shoot her between the eyes. Alternatively, you could make her stand on bits of Lego in bare feet, because, as any parent knows, that really hurts. (The pointy maidens' hats and bits of turret from the Playmobil castle are even more painful, but you have to keep something up your sleeve for next time.)

5) Girls can be kept happy simply by allowing them to put glitter on their cheeks at every opportunity. "Why are you putting glitter on your cheeks?" you will ask. "I'm going somewhere," she will reply. Where? "The other room." This is how it goes and, believe me, there's nothing you can do about it.

6) Many parents spend a great deal of time ferrying their children from one activity to the next. You know, it's football then guitar then tennis then swimming then judo. And, you know what? It is all so easily avoidable. As I've said before, but will say again: the trouble with today's kids is that they do not stay inside watching TV and playing computer games enough. Bear this in mind and save yourself a great deal of trouble. And petrol.

7) Going to the park, it is said, is healthy and free, but it is also really boring, especially if boys take your coat and jumper for goalposts and then leave you to freeze on a bench while wishing you were dead, and sooner rather than later. See? Much better to have insisted they stayed inside to watch TV and play more computer games, and possibly even access porn on the net.

8) Lastly, tips for Hallowe'en. Turn all the lights off. Hide behind the sofa. Pretend to be out.

*Available from bookshops and any number of car-boot sales at £140. Pricey, I know, but it's heavy and good for smacking with

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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