Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Mum's Gone to buy Souvenirs - Spoons and Sombreros.

One of the most enjoyable parts of a holiday is deciding which bit of touristy tat to bring home. A universal pleasure, that desperate urge to choose something you will remember forever and show lovingly to your children in years to come. A smooth piece of bleached driftwood. Hand-blown glass.

Indeed. Our family have always brought home shite. Though we did once buy a bull from a Majorcan glass factory. Mum always told me the reason it had five legs, one a bit shorter than the other four, was because it came from the seconds bin. I believed her for years.

Even Grandma managed to cause a furore at customs one year by smuggling a few too many bottles of advocaat in her luggage along with her usual cigarettes. The customs official was rummaging through her huge drawers asking if she had anything to declare and was rather flummoxed by her reply, "Only some of that yellow stuff." She was wearily waved through.

My earliest memento memory is an old cine film of me clomping down the steps of the plane at Newcastle Airport, aged 5, resplendent in sombrero and poncho, carrying maracas and castanets. I don't think I've moved on since then. I did go through a phase of buying a spoon in every town we visited, always decorated with a little coat of arms. I ask you. A spoon. Thank god for my brother who just collected beer mats from pubs and stuck them on the ceiling in his bedroom.

In Pompeii my mother managed to dig up a big chunk of marble with her foot which she secreted into her handbag along with lava from Vesuvius. In Rome the shops round St Peters were stuffed full of religious temptation. I always wanted to have a glow-in-the-dark Mary. Well, who wouldn't?

The rudest tat was always found in Catholic countries - all that suppressed sexuality came out in their souvenirs. There was the little monk who flashed his plastic willy when his button was pressed. If I remember rightly my brother graduated from beer mats one year and took home a tiny nun whose boobs inflated when he pressed her belly. Happy times.

Thank heavens my own son has such a harmless holiday collection of fridge magnets. So cheap, easy to find and, as yet, inoffensive. Must have his father's genes.

My favourite tale regarding holiday mementos, however, comes from our fly-drive trip round Eastern Canada. Early on in the fortnight we had a happy wine tasting session and purchased two bottles of special icewine which was quite an expensive dessert wine, recommended as an accompaniment to chocolate. I thought all wine went with chocolate but nodded intelligently and fished in my purse for my credit card nonetheless.

At the end of the holiday we were due to fly home from Montreal. We faffed about at the British Airways computer terminal to get our boarding cards and seat reservations then queued for a blissfully short time to drop the bags off. There was a feeling of elation as the cases disappeared from view, only to be replaced by Dougie's face suddenly dropping:

"You know what we've still got in the hand luggage?"


"Two bottles of Ice Wine!"

"You're joking?"

"Nope, I didn't think when the woman was talking about have you got any liquids etc etc, blah blah.."




Okay, so we had in our hand luggage two lovely bottles of special wine we'd been carrying around since Day Three. Regulations say we can't take liquids onto the plane and our cases were already somewhere in the bowels of Montreal airport. We had three options:

A: Pour them down the sink

B: Give them away to someone

C: Drink them before we went through passport control.

Dougie favoured option C but I couldn't face slugging down two bottles of syrupy dessert wine before getting on a plane and risk being chucked off for dancing the macarena down the aisle. So we considered option B and walked back to the BA desk where a really nice chap had helped us at the computer terminal. We explained our dilemma and, as we were about to offer him the booty, he spoke to his colleague at the desk. She calmly picked up the phone, rang someone and five minutes later a little man appeared wheeling one of our cases! Dougie opened the case, revealing all our dirty washing to the gathering crowds, and slipped the bottles in between the more fragrant items. That's service for you. Willy Walsh would have been so proud.

Thanks to Ellen at Ready for Ten for starting the ball rolling with this topic. Now, what do your kids like bringing back from holiday?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Mum's Gone to Poetry Corner

What you will read below isn't what I'd call poetry. Verse? Maybe. A ditty? Possibly. Should Pam Ayres be worried? Probably not.

I wrote it when Rory was a toddler. I found it the other day and thought, bugger it, let's blow the dust off it and plonk it on the blog.

Bedtime Bliss?

I pull up his duvet around him
And wearily mumble 'Night night'
I close the door slowly behind me
Making sure there's a gap for the light

Stripey socks, little pants and a T-shirt
Are scattered about in the hall
My joints creak in time with the floorboards
As I bend down to gather them all

The bathroom resembles a war zone
Little boats ceremoniously sunk
By huge plastic lemonade bottles
From which lots of bath water's been drunk

I empty the bath of its clutter
And whizz round the tide mark with Vim
I notice the toilet seat's up again
There are dribbles all over the rim

I gingerly walk down the staircase
Avoiding the lego and bricks
The handrail is sticky with chocolate
I hazard a guess at a Twix

The kitchen looks nothing like Delia's
Grubby handprints are smeared on the door
Something sloppy has stuck to my slippers
And I'm spreading it all round the floor

After scrubbing and sweeping and mopping
I look to see what's on TV
But Hubby comes home at that moment
He's hopeful I've made him some tea

As he peers in the fridge and the oven
I tell him I've had a bad day
Then guiltily hold up a menu
'Indian or Chinese Takeaway?'

We relax as we nibble a bhaji
And crunch on a spiced poppadom
But just as the balti is beckoning
An ear-splitting noise is heard.....MUUUUUUMMMMM.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Mum's Gone to the Ball

Last weekend was our local charity ball, which every year raises a very decent amount of money for Macmillan Cancer Support, Action Medical Research and, this year, Wish Upon A Star. We must have attended every one in the past 8 or 9 years, always on the same table of friends, and it is always a bloody good night.

This year was a 70s theme, Boogie Nights, though thankfully it didn't require themed dress. But I caused a few ripples at home by saying I might have a little look for a new frock. Husband executed a gleeful jig when I returned saying I couldn't find anything. I would have to recycle one of my old dresses, a pale pink one which I'd last worn about 6 years ago. No-one would remember.

Arrived at the venue and a friend air-kissed me, saying "Oh I always love that pink number of yours!"

Room looked fabulous - magnificent table centres, glitter balls, twinkly lights on a black background. Guests looked equally stunning: the hairdressers and spray tan salons must have had a cracker of a day by the looks of the up-dos, ringlets and tango-palette flesh on show. There were some gorgeous dresses; very envious of the 70s retro maxi-dresses which were 'bang-on trend' (I watch Gok, you know).

After dinner, Dougie and I made our annual trip to the Gift Trees. I'm a sucker for a raffle or a tombola but I love gifts trees more because there is always a prize; my kind of gamble. Two years ago we won a voucher for a chiropodist and a rose bush: thankfully one friend was particularly keen to have her corns seen to, so she swapped. We now have a lovely pair of pink rose bushes in the garden.

This year all the gifts cost £10. I raided Dougie's sporran for a tenner, oblivious to strange looks as I guddled about excitedly in his crotch. I picked my silver bauble off the tree and looked around expectantly for number 211. There, sitting forlornly on the shelf, was a huge teddy bear. Felt like a little girl at the funfair as I scooped Big Ted into my arms and took him back to the table. One friend tried unsuccessfully to swap a paint-balling session with me, but she was told where to stick her voucher as teddy was coming home with me. Other friends tried to think of a name for him; in the strange light he looked rather glittery but I was having none of Dougie's suggestion of Gary. Big Ted would have to do for now. As the boogie-ing was about to begin I was worried someone might nab Gary/Big Ted so Dougie was told to take him back to the car, along with our second gift tree prize of three garden shrubs. Result.

Entertainment for the evening was The Real Thing. Yes, they really were the real thing at that. Eddie Amoo and his brothers from the 1970s belting out Can't Get By Without You, You to Me are Everything and Can You Feel the Force. Mind you, what is it with groups who constantly ask the crowd to sing along with the chorus. I'm exhausted mate, and I've paid a fortune for this ticket - you bloody sing! Then they asked us to jump up and down. What were they thinking? There were women in the crowd wearing strapless dresses, high-heels and with sensitive bladders. I'll carry on shuffling, thank you very much.

At some point in the evening we also had a go on the silent auction. I'm careful with normal auctions, having nearly bid for a week in a cottage in Heacham one year because I was waving to my pal at another table. Silent auctions are easier as the idea is to write your name and bid on a sheet of paper under the item. At some point in the evening Dougie and I toddled over to the Silent Auction table and sort of got carried away. One of the lots was a night in a country house hotel in Oxfordshire, with dinner. The bidding was up to £140 so we put £150 on. Heaven knows why as we didn't read the details about the hotel, had only just had a nice break in that part of the country anyway and, actually, £150 is quite a lot of money. Thankfully after midnight Dougie checked the sheet and was relieved some other generous supporter had bid £160.

Received a phone call yesterday asking for a £150 cheque for the hotel voucher. What! Looks like the £160 offer had been scribbled out later in the evening so our bid stood.

Anyone fancy a dirty weekend in Oxfordshire? Any offers? Let's start the bidding!

PS - Have just received my voucher and actually it seems I may have nabbed myself a bargain - 1 luxury room within the Grade II listed Heythrop Park Hotel (in the main house) with access to state of the art Health Club. It's also near Bicester outlet shopping village.....

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Gallery - Creatures - Small Furry Animal

Two summers ago we had a fascinating fly-drive round Eastern Canada, visiting cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Quebec. A few days were spent in Ottawa, which I had read had been dubbed one of the dullest cities in North America. With our expectations therefore pretty low, we were pleasantly surprised by how charming it was. There was something rather British about it, including The Changing of the Guard every morning and architecture very reminiscent of Edinburgh.

As usual I was spouting forth nuggets from our guide-books, boring the boys witless about the fact that Queen Victoria supposedly chose Ottawa as Canada's capital based on a pretty watercolour painting she'd seen. I also amused myself with the thought of contracting "Beaver Fever" during our stay; much ribbing from husband about it being too hot to handle and such-like. Oh how we laughed.

It was while we were ambling along in Ottawa that we kept seeing little furry animals popping out of holes near the river bank and along the canal. They were quite chubby, with reddish brown fur and probably measured about 2 ft in length. We sat at a cafe by the canal trying to decide what they were. In the end I plucked up the courage to go inside to ask the cashier.

"Can you tell me what the little furry animals are outside?"

"Sure", he replied, "They're groundhogs"

"Groundhogs! Like in the film, Groundhog Day?"

"Yup, that's right, we have hundreds of them round here".

Who'd have thought it! I was very excited when I returned to the boys to tell them. We gave Rory a quick synopsis of the film: Bill Murray gets stuck in time during Groundhog Day and has to replay the day over and over again.

Dougie then smiled wickedly and said,

"I dare you"

"Dare me to what?"

"Go back into the cafe and ask him again".

This is my entry for The Gallery this week, the theme of which is "Creatures".

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Mum's Gone to Sports Day

I was reading Alpha Mummy's post on the subject of Sports Day and as my comment was in danger of being longer than the original post, I thought I should put finger to keyboard myself.

Although my son is now at secondary school and thus the purgatory that is Sports Day is far behind us, I do my bit as a Governor and still attend every year. This week the chance to join some friends for a picnic lunch during the day was a big plus point.

To be fair, the social aspect of the day was always the better part; very convivial to meet up with chums, spread out picnic blankets, vie for the best location for videoing the little darlings and soak up the sunshine (hopefully).

Watching my son try his best over the years has been a double-edged sword. Not a natural athlete, despite being as skinny as a whippet, he has struggled in every conceivable race, managing only two third places for "shell in bucket relay" and "bean bag in hoop" race in Reception class. From then on he continued to run vertically, bouncing along with no forward momentum. There was a travesty one year when I was convinced his team won the Space Hopper relay race but the judges didn't notice so again he went home with no rosettes.

His poor showing at Sports Day was a  hard lesson for him but he always took it in his stride and I'm still convinced that the competitive element should remain as children need to learn that they will get knocks in life and they all have some talents which will be rewarded.

In Year 6, helped by the fact that there were only 6 boys in the class and they could choose which events to enter, Rory chose wisely and he and his equally unathletic mate cleaned up in the Slow Bike Race. For the uninitiated, the race involves pedalling as slowly as possible but without putting your feet on the ground. The winner is the cyclist who crosses the finishing line last. For once, control and balance were rewarded rather than speed: like the steady tortoise they agonisingly wobbled for what seemed like an age whilst the over-keen hares had shot off too quickly and finished too soon. How satisfying was that. A similar cautious approach earned him a first in the egg and spoon race. Thank heavens they provided spoons for the children: in years gone by parents were told to provide their children with "dessert spoons" and there were some decidedly iffy spoons on show: some were verging on the size of soup ladles.

Competitive parents at Sports days are a nightmare. Over the years I have been cajoled into being a judge on occasions and the job is terrifying, especially when trying to decide places for the infants who all have a habit of slowing down at the line and finishing together. Get it wrong and you have the parents to deal with. Thank God I wasn't adjudicating the year some blustering parents came into school the following day brandishing video evidence.

As for parents' races, now and again I have entered, particularly if there has been an added element of chance: balancing a bean bag on the head before throwing in a hoop always appealed more than the three-legged race or a plain sprint. Some mums enter every year and always perform well: one was so keen she entered the wheelbarrow race in the barrow position despite wearing a skirt and showing her scanties to the enthusiastic dads.

My husband, having seen the injuries caused to eager parents entering sports day events, sensibly wore a suit and brogues every year then shrugged saying, "Oh what a shame, I'm not properly attired, will have to sit this one out".

This year was no exception with regard to parental fails. One dad fell awkwardly in the sack race, forgetting to let go of the sack as he keeled over. His blokey mates had fun shouting "Hey, not so good in the sack as you thought!". Not quite so hilarious when, having shipped him off to A&E, it was discovered he had broken his collar-bone and had to have it operated on yesterday.

Have you any good Sports Day stories you'd like to share?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Gallery - Motherhood - Rory

This little baby is now 14 years old and probably has no idea how much he was wanted and how much he is loved.

We always planned to have children but didn't think it would take so long for a baby to come along. Tests, tablets, heartache, frustration. Four years later this little tuppence arrived and has always been everything we had hoped for. He has turned into a kind, caring, funny and intelligent young man

Many photos of my boy show him with his dad, as it's usually me behind the camera. But this shot shows him over my shoulder, chin resting on a muslin cloth, looking at his dad. My fingers are gently wrapped around him, keeping him safe.

Rory hasn't any siblings but he is our life, he makes us whole.

This is my entry for Tara Cain's Gallery, the theme for this week being 'Motherhood'.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Supporting Sally

A friend and colleague of mine, apparently inspired by my good self (ahem... ), has started a new blog. She has only written two posts so far but already she has me hooked and I think her humour and style will appeal to you too.

I have known Sally for many years as she is a teacher at my son's former primary school. The formidable Year 2 dragon (surely not?)  inspired my son with his creative writing. I still have a fantastic story he wrote then: "Back in Time to Ancient Greece" featuring my son and his Greek 'friend' Draco driving round Lincolnshire in a Volvo and pranging said Volvo into a Happy Shopper.

I digress. Sally would say herself that she is not good with 'pooters'. I help her with ICT on a Friday morning and gradually she is getting the hang of it. The thought of her managing the intricacies of a blog is enough to add a few more grey hairs to both our heads but she's determined and, with lots of encouragement, she will succeed.

The trip she is planning this summer will be truly inspiring to any parent reading about it. I will let you have a read of her two fledgling posts and you will see what I mean.

Pop over for a visit:  Sally in South Africa

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Mum's Gone to be a World Cup Widow

So how many more weeks have I got to endure this lovely vision in my front room?

Telly, feet up, crisps.

Not any old crisps mind - Walkers special World Cup crisps. Here we have Rory indulging in Brazilian Salsa and Scottish husband Dougie unwittingly munching on English Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding.

Might as well join them I suppose. Budge up boys, mine's a South African Sweet Chutney.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Mum's Gone to Eurocamp - The Verdict

The next two days of our courtesy Eurocamp break were very serene: sunbathing, reading, drinking, swimming and generally chilling out in the hot sun. A short drive to the little coastal town of Ault (see left) was quite surprising: magnificent chalk cliffs, a pebbly beach and a beautiful blue-green sea. Despite a good number of people on the beach there was nothing open at all -not a shop, cafe, ice cream van (do the French have ice cream vans? Probably not, a crepe stall? There wasn't any) - a ghost town with all the shutters closed. This spell of good weather had taken them by surprise it would seem. 

The bad weather arrived the morning we were leaving. The rain was so heavy we had a dilemma. How to pack the car without getting absolutely drenched? Dougie had the answer. He took all his clothes off, wrapped the teeny towel round himself and gamely dashed between the chalet and the boot. Great cheers from me, embarrassed sighs from Rory and a few twitched curtains from the neighbours. Once done, he popped his dry clothes back on and then I found an umbrella to take me daintily to the car!

So was our Eurocamp holiday a success? Absolutely. The French campsites are excellent, often in quite beautiful surroundings. The Eurocamp mobile homes are spacious (well, bedrooms a bit tight, don't know how many times I stubbed my toe on the bed), modern and clean. Amenities such as swimming pools and kids clubs are very good. There wasn't anything specific laid on for teenagers at this time of year and at this site, but the one we have booked (and paid for) for the summer has a teenage club and plenty of sports and entertainment. They did have a tennis court but Scottish husband baulked at paying 8 euros an hour to use our own rackets so the boys had great fun playing gently on the path next to the chalet and losing the balls in the bushes.

Initially I found it hard to adjust to having a holiday where I wasn't in some fancy gaff. M'Lady here rather likes dressing for dinner and raiding the mini-bar in 5 star hotels. But this break was just as enjoyable because it was stress-free and we laughed, a lot, even when things went wrong. I wore very little (Sorry Tim, next door) and therefore had hardly any washing to do when we got home, which was a bonus.

But I do have some tips regarding items to bring with you if you are considering a mobile home/camping holiday but are too much of a princess like me to rough it.

What to take?

  • My husband. Years of camping as a child and he goes all Swiss Family Robinson in this environment. He single-handedly did all the supermarket shopping then cooked every night on the barbecue. I did go with him to the supermarket once but he found this frustrating as all I did was try to hunt out Nestle Crunch chocolate bars.

  • Marigolds. As I wasn't on cooking duties I was always at the bloody sink and I don't like doing dishes without rubber protection.

  • Unless you're flying to the campsite, take your own bedding so you can be sure you have the right number of pillowcases per pillow. If  you have space, stuff the duvet in. If you're fussy about your pillows, stick them in too.

  • Don't bother with the £7 Welcome Pack unless you're only staying a few nights as you'll need to stock up on more coffee and tea sachets anyway, the matches are a bit rubbish and the washing up liquid bottle is tiny. But it is pretty good value as you do get an excellent dishcloth (!) and the bottle of wine included is very medicinal once you've stubbed your toe the second time.

  • Bring your own beach towels. You can order them at £8 a pair but if their delivery hasn't arrived, as in our case, you'll spend 18 euros at the supermarket, knowing you've got a whole airing cupboard full of the buggers at home.

  • Soap (yup we forgot), toilet roll (we may have packed the moist bum wipes but neglected to pack the dry stuff), spare bin bags, bags to take to the supermarket, pegs, ice cube bags, bathmat (ok not essential but I do hate one-legged hop-about drying)

  • An attractive cotton throw for the lounge seating area. The seat cushions in our cabin were plasticky and stuck to my thighs when hot!!

  • If you're not bringing the laptop (there was WiFi but I needed a break) then playing cards and board games are handy. Rory was disdainful when Dougie found a box of Connect 4 in the Eurocamp office but then slaughtered his father on a regular basis and it became the game of the holiday (just don't tell him I've said so as it's so not cool). Think of new games too, such as who can catch a tennis ball with a pair of barbecue tongs?!
At this time of tightening our belts, ash clouds, airplane security and strikes, the idea of a camping holiday is becoming more popular. Eurocamp use the best sites available, a great range of mobile homes and their focus on children is excellent.

If possible, upgrade to the best cabin/mobile home you can afford. We booked a very small one when Rory was little, thinking we didn't need much space with only one child, but extra space is so welcome. Go for a chalet with decking too; I didn't realise how much better it was sitting at an outdoor table on the flat, rather than on the uneven grass. It also cuts down hugely on children bringing muck into the caravan on their shoes.

A seven night break at Eurocamp’s Domaine de Drancourt parc, arriving 3 July 2010, staying in a 2 bed ‘Comfort’ mobile home with decking, costs just £420 for the whole family, accommodation only.

Ferry crossings, fly-drive packages or rail travel can be arranged through Eurocamp at a supplement.

For further information on Eurocamp please call 0844 406 0552 or visit

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Mum's Gone to Eurocamp - Meet the Neighbours!

Domaine de Drancourt - Photo courtesy of Eurocamp

If you haven't already chuckled at Day One of the holiday then have a look here.

Discovered last night that caravans can get quite chilly at night if you leave the windows open. Woke up freezing and had to yank the sheet back from Dougie who had hogged it. Wish I'd brought the duvet with us but there were plenty of fleecy blankets so piled them on a few hours too late.

Ventured outside and the warm air hit me. It really was a beautiful campsite: plenty of space, trees and a pretty chateau in the grounds. A few nettles and weeds had poked up between the steps of the decking but Ray Mears had set to with the bread knife the evening before so my ankles were safe.

It was on the decking, as I stood nursing a steaming mug of tea, that a revelation appeared before me. When you imagine meeting another blogger for the first time you anticipate a conference maybe or an organised parent/child meet-up. What you don't expect is to see Tim from Bringing up Charlie walk past with his children, having just left the next-door caravan. I felt rather underdressed, standing there in pyjama bottoms, hoody and sporting bed hair. I caught his eye and said,

"Hello, it's Tim isn't it..that must be Charlie?"

Fabulous first words, don't you think? Up there with "Do you come here often?".

Poor Tim looked across at the strange woman talking to him and looked understandably bemused. I introduced myself, "Erm, Trish...Mum's Gone to?" and then wondered why I hadn't just watched him go on his walk then introduce myself later once I'd showered!.

So how does a mummy blogger greet a daddy blogger? Did we race across the grass to exchange hugs and air-kisses? A shake of hands maybe? No, I was rooted to the spot on my little decked podium, clutching my tea whilst waving to Charlie and his sister, Sally. Neither Tim nor I knew the other had been offered a Eurocamp courtesy break, never mind the fact that we were given a choice of dates and sites so the chances of us turning up at the same place at the same time were pretty small.

Later on, once dressed,  I met Tim's lovely wife, Sarah and introduced them to my family. Rather odd I suspect for my husband and Tim's wife who both must have thought, "Oh God, another blogger" but they seemed to take it in their stride. Rather surreal was the fact that back in the UK we only live half an hour away from each other, have never met and yet have several mutual friends. Yet here we were in Northern France saying Bonjour for the first time.

Tim will be writing on this subject today so if you want to read his take on the most famous encounter since Dr Livingstone bumped into Henry Morton Stanley near a waterfall then pop over to "Bringing up Charlie".

As the heat increased during the morning a visit to the swimming pool was a necessity and here I thought I had boxed clever. Before the trip I had been most impressed with Eurocamp staff whenever I contacted them. Whether via telephone or email, they were efficient and extremely helpful. I even tested the online live chat assistance, typing in my question about whether swimming shorts were permitted at the campsite. As expected with French campsites, the answer was no, only proper trunks for men. So one afternoon before the holiday I had to buy trunk-type shorts for Hubby and son. Neither of them were happy with this so had them rolled up in their towels when they ventured to the pool area, only to find everyone in the pool was wearing long baggy shorts, save one rotund chap whose teensy bit of lycra only just covered his modesty. The no-shorts rule obviously wasn't enforced by the camp owners. The lycra trunks I purchased for my two chaps remained unused, surprise surprise! (Photo courtesy of Eurocamp)

The afternoon was spent visiting the nearby resort of St Valery sur Somme which was only five minutes drive away. A long promenade, medieval walls, a drink in an outdoor cafe watching the world go by; it was perfect.

Our teenager was slowly adjusting to the lack of TV and computer; his wicked mother making him go cold turkey for the four nights we would be away. In the summer the campsites have more teenage-oriented activities but at this time of year everything was quite low key. Rory was fine. In the evening he and Bear Grylls lit the barbecue, poked it with sticks then afterwards knocked tennis balls about. We let him have a decent shandy, I got tipsy on the wine then son cruelly took a photo of me flaked out on the bed. What would the neighbours think?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Mum's Gone to Eurocamp

"All we need is money and bum wipes".

This startling announcement, said on the morning of our departure by my husband, Dougie, as I wittered on about what we might have forgotten, sums up our family's habit of forgetting to take vital items on holiday then having to buy them, coupled with our inabilty to manage without a stock of moist toilet tissue to hand. I could have suggested the 'all we need' speech include passports, EHIC insurance cards, travel and accommodation vouchers and also the fact that in dire need we could purchase said bum wipes, but he was focused on the manly art of boot-packing, so best leave him be.

The offer of a free holiday with Eurocamp was accepted with great delight in in our house. I was very happy to review one of its French campsites as, strangely enough, we had already booked our summer break with its sister company Keycamp. Having experienced a Keycamp holiday when Rory was about 5, we knew it had been a good choice for us then. We were hoping for similar experience with Rory now a teenager. So this four night stay at a campsite of our choice would be a great dry-run.

Our holiday in the summer will be in the Dordogne so for this mini-break a site a little closer to  home was chosen. Domaine de Drancourt, in the Picardy region, is about an hour and a half's drive from Calais, so certainly manageable in a day from South Lincolnshire.

We paid an extra £42 to use Eurotunnel rather than the ferry: well worth it in our opinion. All you need to do is turn up half an hour before departure, park in an area you probably shouldn't (oh, sorry, that's just us), then follow the cars onto the train assuming when you've picked the 'Under 1.80m ' queue that the height of your vehicle is actually under 1.80m, sigh with relief when it seems your car is 1.72m, curse the fact that you're behind a Belgian workman with 6ft of skirting board poking out of his boot (oh that's us again) then half an hour later clatter out of the train straight onto the motorway. Sorted.

A wonderful drive on French roads (pure delight) then we arrived at the campsite, dead on time for the 3pm check-in. We waited in the Eurocamp office and I noted a 'VIP' next to my name which I thought a little extravagant but made sure the boys were made aware of my new status. A few minutes later a young lad cycled up and looked rather wide-eyed and scared as I said who I was. He then uttered these words of welcome with the drama they so deserved:

"Your chalet isn't ready yet. The people in it before you COMPLETELY TRASHED IT"
"What do you mean 'completely trashed it'?"
"How bad?"
"So, erm, what about the toilets?

At this point Dougie looked as if he were about to replicate the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland. Apparently there were no other mobile homes available and we would have to wait until 4pm before it was habitable.
"So, do you want to go visit St Val for a bit?"  our cheery rep suggested.
No we bloody didn't. We did, instead, wander over to the chalet ourselves and found a nice young lady busy cleaning our 3-bedroomed superior-with-decking. Decking was piled up with rubbish including a man's shoe, but on peering through the door the sight was hardly the Barlinnie dirty protest that we had imagined. She indicated that the previous occupants had left a lot of rubbish but there wasn't any hygeine issues so she'd be done in another 40 minutes.

By 4pm our chalet was ready and our doom-merchant pedaled in front of the car to guide us to where we'd just been. The place looked fine: better than fine. It was clean, tidy and very spacious for a caravan. We had a good look round and saw the sheets and pillowcases which had been provided for us. Normally we would have taken our own linen but as Eurocamp were offering us their linen pack free-of-charge, we accepted it, purely to find out what it would be like. Pity only one pillowcase per person (yet two pillows?) and towels which involve a choice of whether to cover bum or boobs adequately, but hey ho, things were looking up. Then Hubby asked where the beach/pool towels were.
"Oh we didn't get a delivery this week"
Great. So would we be allowed to take the normal towels to the pool? Oh yes. Well could we have some extra bath towels then? Oh I'm not sure, I'll have to ask the site manager.

We gave up at this point, shooshed the poor lad out of the door and then the hunter-gatherer instincts of Dougie came to the fore. One hour and one supermarket visit later and my man returned with wine, beer, meat, prawns, pastries, salads and two fetching neon-coloured beach towels.

Wine was poured, the barbecue lit, the evening sun was warm and we sat on our decking and began to relax...

More carry on camping to come, including one very big surprise bigger than Barbara Windsor's famous wardrobe malfunction..................