Sue Arnold: My idea of hell is a three-month school holiday

We invariably ended up at the donkey sanctuary down the road, but there's a limit to its pleasures
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The Independent Online

Apart from MPs, most people I know, especially the ones with children, want shorter holidays, not longer ones. The truth is that unless you're rich or fanatically well organised, holidays are hard work. If it's the first, like the family we know with four children and two live-in nannies, holidays are a doddle. You fly to some five-star hotel beside the Indian or Pacific Ocean and do pretty much the same as you do at home (ie eat and argue and sleep in a swimsuit).

Either that or you go and stay with equally well-heeled friends on their ranch in Colorado, their villa in Tuscany or their yacht in whichever port it happens to be parked at the time.

This particular family, I'll call them the Doshes - we do - did all three last summer with brief interludes in between foreign playgrounds at their newly renovated Elizabethan manor in Suffolk. A couple of days before they were due on the yacht in the Virgin Islands, their American host telephoned from Texas to say that pressures of work prevented him from being able to join them, but they were more than welcome to go without him. The crew, he assured them (there were 10 crew members, it was a massive yacht) would look after them. Mrs Dosh whispered to her husband that he'd better ask JR what sort of tip they should leave at the end of their week's holiday. Whatever you think, replied JR cheerily, but 10,000 bucks would be plenty.

Ten thousand dollars as a tip? I said incredulously when Mrs Dosh told me about it afterwards. It sounded a lot, she agreed, but there were eight of them and the chef was French and JR had said they could use the jet ski, the scuba-diving equipment and the helicopter whenever they wanted, which meant that the children weren't bored for a single minute so all in all it seemed pretty reasonable.

Tipping the crew on a millionaire's yacht is not a subject I know much about, but I could write an encyclopaedia on bored children and long holidays. What are we going to do today, mum, they used to say, and I'd scrabble feverishly through the Yellow Pages, the local paper, the parish magazine, anything, looking for fun activities for under-12s. There wasn't much choice. We invariably ended up at the donkey sanctuary down the road, but there's a limit to the pleasure that can be derived from staring at five old, abused mokes swishing flies from their buttocks with thin, wispy tails.

Surely with so many kids, neighbours would say, they entertain themselves - it's the poor little only children you have to import friends for all the time. Up to a point, Lord Copper.

For the first couple of weeks of the summer holidays, before the novelty of not having to get up for school has worn off, everything's fine. It's the next three weeks or even six weeks, depending on what sort of school they go to, that counts. That's where the fanatical organisation comes in. I know people who plan school holidays with the same attention to detail that Field Marshal Montgomery planned the El Alamein campaign. Or, to put it another way, just like school timetables.

The most successful summer holiday I can remember - it was a long time ago - was when two sets of cousins came to stay and we had a sort of decathlon for a week including sporting, artistic and literary heats. There was Best Stone Collection, Longest Daisy Chain, Funniest Poem, Prettiest Picture, Straightest Handstand etc with masses of prizes at the end just like a regular school speech day.

Little and often is the ideal holiday arrangement. Give me a weekend break rather than a two-week stint any day, unless it's one of those activity holidays where you come away knowing how to ice a wedding cake or write successful chick lit. I was sent a Holidays with a Difference brochure the other day. Along with weaving in the Orkneys and forest craft in Oregon, it featured a 10-day colon-cleansing course in Goa.

Now there's a coincidence. I recently met a thin woman at a party who'd just come back from a week's colon cleansing in India. It was the best vacation she'd ever had. Doesn't sound much like a holiday to me, I said, all that apple juice and fiddling about with bits of plastic tubing. That was only part of it, she said. To relax in the evenings they did Ayurvedic yoga with a yogi master who had had the membranes under his tongue removed so that he could bend it right back inside his head and massage his brain to gain wisdom. Now there's something a few of those MPs with three months' vacation on their hands might think of doing.