Thank God It's The Holidays

1st September 1995 at 01:00
Monday: This family normally occupies a huge bungalow, and, since the departure to school and university of two of its members, has satellite stations beyond the Midlands. So six of us in a caravan in Wales is scary.

Last time we played sardines was on a barge years ago. The motorway-veteran husband nearly died of inactivity, chugging 20 miles a day. He swore never again. Actually, he swore rather a lot, especially when claustrophobia made me scream in the night when I was unable to open our cabin door because wedged against the other side of it was the head of one son, who had fallen from his bunk in his sleep. Happy days.

We are a lot bigger now and for packing us into a tiny space, yet again, I blame the junior son's school. We bought this holiday at his PTA's Auction of Promises, having missed the previous lot - a cottage in Cornwall - because we were conferring over finances, and yes, the cottage went for less than the caravan, but what the hell, it's a good cause, isn't it?

Tuesday: How could you be claustrophobic with the sea, a playground and a castle within arm's length? What family would squabble, enchanted with living in a doll's house? Only a grouch would read Ibsen on holiday. And Hard Times and Hamlet - for mother, next term is only a blink away. And only a husband involved with OFWAT - the equivalent of OFSTED for water boards - would mutter about the state of the sea. "Are you really swimming, or only going through the motions?"

Wednesday: Shopping is now essential - we need a bucket and spade and a bottle of gin. The first two are unobtainable - Woolies is full of conscience-searing school uniform and pencil cases. Youngest son offers to dig in the sand with a 15cm ruler. Sounds like key stage 2 technology project material to me. The price of gin causes husband to plan day trip to Ireland for the duty-free.

Thursday: Today is for exploring. Children for whom culture and history remain resolutely closed books ask what will we do after lunch. Apologise profusely for not bringing computer. Unpack Monopoly, Game of Life, Scrabble. Even after brutal handicapping - adults play with four tiles - parents win. Caravan offers no sulking place. Restore harmony with McDonald's. At the end of the day, communal undressing with three sensitive teenagers demanding total darkness is like undressing on a beach, but less windy.

Second daughter can bear withdrawal symptoms no longer and spends evening in the car on the mobile phone. Senior daughter also begins to feel term looming - is there a local library with any law books? Not, it transpires, in English.

Friday: We are all torn: our desperate wish for more space and privacy fights with nostalgia for the beach, bar and bums which both the daughters have discovered. Finish the gin watching the sun set on the Irish Sea - thank God it's still the holidays.

Hilary Moriarty is deputy head of The Red Maid's School in Bristol

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