AS THE nation goes back to school, Margaret Hodge may be surprised to learn that she has managed to achieve consensus in the house this week. Not in the House of Commons - where Ms Hodge is employed to try and rationalise the length of our school terms - but in the house of Mourby, the home of five people who are likely to be on the receiving end of her plan to carve up the academic year into as many bite-size chunks.
Initially, the idea of an extra twoholidays a year appealed to my offspring who firmly believe that education is wasted on the young and life begins at 3.15 pm. Then they discovered the price: the loss of six glorious weeks of summer indolence.
"No way," said Sarah (12) recently returned from a whole month being fed chocolates by her grandparents. Six-year-old Tom, who for most of August was to be found face down making tractor noises in some builders' sand, let it be known that he wouldn't lightly give up his paradise either. Even nine-year-old Ginny, whose pottery course was cancelled, whose canoeing instructor broke his leg and whose godmother in Scarborough couldn't have her to stay after all, made it clear she would rather suffer the penal servitude of a play scheme than go back to school early.
Personally, I'm anti-Hodge simply because of her detrimental effect on the beaches of Spain. Already package-tour prices double the moment school is out. With only a three-week window in July, the cost of del Sol will soon go through the roof. But I have to admit to a romantic fondness for the long British summer holiday too. It is - like the Monster Raving Loony Party and the 28-day cricket match - one of those beautiful, wholly illogical quirks of life in this country.
As a child, it was the nearest thing to infinity that I could imagine. And once we concede it to the Gradgrinds we'll never get it back. Just as my children will never experience the total serenity of listening to an omnibus edition of The Archers safe in the knowledge that every supermarket in the land is closed.
My wife, currently exhausted by crisis-managing three sets of childcare bookings this summer, sees no benefit. "It doesn't matter if holidays are long or short, having five of them just means two more opportunities for play arrangements to get fouled up."