Digging a hole

10th August 2012 at 01:00

I'm done with family holidays. After yet another futile attempt at making everyone happy, I've come to the conclusion that it's easier to deliver an outstanding lesson than a good family holiday. Wherever you go, the chances are that your efforts will be judged "unsatisfactory" or at best "requires improvement".

The problem is a lack of differentiation. I forget that we have conflicting interests: I like walking, my daughter enjoys shopping and my son prefers sitting in front of a computer until all the blood vessels in his eyeballs turn into red and white clouds of raspberry ripple. My husband is easier to please. As long as there's a 32in telly and a satellite dish he's happy anywhere.

You'd think that, as a teacher, I would be able to accommodate our mixed-ability interests, but instead of creating five IHPs (Individualised Holiday Plans) I end up organising a one-size-fits-all job that no one really enjoys.

That's because I labour under the illusion that we enjoy doing things as a family. We don't. The only thing we regularly do as a family is fight. But this doesn't stop me from hoping that one day things might be different. One day we might become a Boden-buying, linen-wearing, middle-class family with a cycle rack, a tow bar, and a gite in the South of France, instead of being a dysfunctional rabble with too many tellies, too many dogs and a washing machine in our back garden.

I should have realised that our individual leanings would get in the way of a shared holiday vision. My perfect holiday involves my dressing up like a menopausal Vasquez from Aliens, clambering up mountains in a sweaty vest and combats, but with an emergency Craghoppers fleece in my backpack in case my kidneys get chilly, while my kids will only stay in places that offer en suite facilities and a wi-fi password.

This year, however, I tried a compromise. Instead of booking the usual damp Cumbrian bothy that smells of soggy sheep, I found a house by the sea. My husband's reaction was startling. At the mention of the word "sea" he leapt off the sofa, dislodged the bib of stale toast crumbs that had been slowly gathering on his chest since episode one of The Bridge and insisted that he needed to buy some "gear".

The "gear" in question turned out to be: a 5mm wetsuit, a sit-on kayak and a Buy-It-Now harpoon gun, which is a pretty ambitious trawl for a man who's never been seen in a wet pair of Speedos. I should have seen the whole Captain Ahab thing coming. The word "sea" - like "camping" or "fishing" - triggers a Pavlovian response in men. It turns them into primal hunter-gatherers; they hunt for the nearest Millets and gather up everything in the sale. They remind me of William Blake: they would sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unsatisfied desires for a Vango Force Ten four-man tent with snow valances and a ripstop flysheet.

To be fair, despite my having to hoover up endless deserts of sand and wash tonnes of gritty towels, the holiday did have some high points. Swimming was fun, the weather was good and the fish and chips were excellent, although the tiny sachets of tartare sauce were - gram for gram - more expensive than 9ct gold from Argos. At one stage, I was nearly tempted to try the wetsuit, until I discovered how my husband had remained in the sea for so long after drinking three mugs of tea.

At least when we're up a mountain he does it behind a cairn.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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