London - Family holidays are sometimes best described as a triumph of endurance over self-preservation. Ours are often filled with exhausting activity from dawn until dusk, which is why for the past ten years we’ve been holidaying with another family - it spreads the workload... sorry, I mean enjoyment.
At least this way you have safety in parental numbers and get to drink a cup of tea while it’s warm - and possibly even read a newspaper while the small people occupy each other, roaming around in a feral fashion.
But before we embarked on regular Cornish holidays with our similarly sleep-deprived friends, we had to establish that they had the same attitudes to parenting. You cannot endure a break with parents who frown every time your children reach for the chocolate HobNobs - at breakfast.
You need a couple who are prepared to shout “Don’t sit so close to the TV/turn it down,” at various intervals, who don’t mind flushing the loo after your children, who are not obsessively tidy and don’t mind being on the rota of clearing up the water from the dog’s bowl every time the toddler formerly known as Baby Mabel deliberately spills it.
And I firmly believe that if you ever find yourself on a trip with parents who say “Isn’t it a bit early for a beer?” then you have picked the wrong holiday companions, my friend.
Luckily, we managed to find a couple who would also endure the annual “holiday players” performance with good humour. For every year, our six children put on a loosely scripted, loud, illogical and often messy performance that they have practised on days too rainy for the beach, of which there are many in Cornwall.
Last week we got an exclusive preview of the painfully over-long Hotel Trouble And The Escaped Lion/Chicken.
I blame The X Factor for this urge to perform, and have always discouraged it - but still they persevere, immune to the harshest critic of their complete lack of showbiz talent (me).
The play’s about a hotel for edible people, my five-year-old tells me, as he dresses the youngest cast member, Mabel aged 15 months, in a chicken outfit (yellow T-shirt).
“Is that where the lion comes in?’”I ask, but he stares at me perplexed.
“Who are the edible people?” I try instead.
“You know, the old ones who can’t do anything for themselves, who need to be cared for,” he replies.
He must mean “elderly” not edible, but I can see he is a bit too cross about his small role in this extravaganza for further discussion (both boys in the group are relegated to walk-on parts by the bossy, older girls).
Besides, his chubby co-star is refusing to put her tiny arms into the chicken costume, so he’s got enough on his plate without me correcting his use of words.
“Oh God,” says Mabel, the only words she knows, apart from “noodle”.
At this point in our holiday, just before the second act, I have to remind myself to adopt my newly discovered holiday mindset - my PMA (positive mental attitude).
You may scoff, but actually it has come in more handy than a lifetime’s supply of waterproof plasters on recent staycations.
I learnt the phrase from a Canadian colleague, who asserts it enthusiastically before a difficult meeting. “C’mon,” she says with spirit. “Everything is fine if you have a bit of PMA.” (You can feel my brow furrowing, can’t you?)
Anyway, vacation PMA held me in good stead when I ended up in Truro Casualty with a flip-flop related injury; when Gracie accidentally inflated her lifebelt on a sea safari; and when Baby Mabel boisterously hurled herself fully clothed into a 3ft-deep rock pool.
And it came in useful when I realised that I’d forgotten to pack anyone any underwear, and when everyone under 4ft got up at 6am for the first seven days of our trip.
It is also helpful when it comes to applying suntan lotion to four children who claim they are allergic to it and move faster than Usain Bolt when they spot it.
“PMA,” I’m heard to mutter through gritted teeth as I chase them around the beach spraying factor 50 on to their albino partings.
I am hoping I have got enough PMA left to make it through the long drive home.
Besides, surely it must be time for a beer now. - Daily Mail