Saturday, 26 August 2017

Center Parcs Whinfell Forest Day 2

Awoke to the blissful smell of bacon frying. Well actually I’d been awake for about an hour but hiding in my bedroom, Internetting, safe from the ravages of kids wanting stuff. Unable to resist the siren call of cured meats any longer, got up and scoffed bacon, sausage, egg, toast and loads of black pudding which J had craftily bought knowing that as Emma is a veggie and M and G dont like it, well…

We couldn’t avoid the ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’ (three lies in one phrase - in fact a uriney leisure pool with water slides, think “Wet & Rancid”) any longer so the boys and I headed off down to the “village” centre. Paradise? Paradoxical more like - they sell this place as some sort of dirt-free nature junket when in fact it’s basically Alton Towers with trees. Having rattled down a series of 1997 fibreglass tubes with just enough gap between each section to stay legal whilst grating the skin off your back, I was totally knackered and beginning to remember why I always return from Center Parcs weighing less than before the trip. Fun though :)

Having burned off, indeed scraped off some calories, we summoned enough front to suggest to Emma that we deserved a pizza in the Belle Italia “italian” restaurant. Actually the grub was pretty good, and they did that little known Roman delicacy “Ripiena”. I think it’s also known as stuffed crust. Mmmmmmmmm stuffed crust. Emma had an Insalata Verde, and it was most definitely the biggest pile of green I’ve seen since Michael’s 2-year bout of snotty cold as a toddler.

The weather being a pretty good English summer day, i.e. cloudy and not actually freezing, decided to try our luck on the “lake”. Sit-on kayaks for J and M, a pedalo for me and G. I might have suggested a 2-seater kayak instead, but G wasn’t interested and anyway having nearly drowned him in Cornwall a few years back by taking him out on one of those stupid tourist-death-trap Early Learning Centre-type kayaks into the Fal estuary I thought better of it. What can go wrong with a gentle paddle on a man-made pond? Well, for one if you’re taller than 5’3’’ then trying to pedal a pedalo with a 10-year old who keeps forgetting that simply allowing your feet to go around isn’t the same as actually pedalling will displace at least two lower vertebrae. Secondly, sit-on kayaks can be easily capsized by the bow-wave generated by the staff “safety” speedboat racing to tell some other 10-year-old kid that he’s wandered too far from the rest of the sailboarding activity group. It was like the Battle of Jutland I tell ya.

J and M had to bike it back to the lodge sitting on wet arses due to the clever design of the kayaks which gathers bilge water right in the arse-sump. It’s this sort of hazard they don’t warn you about. Got back in time to listen to the Newcastle v West Ham match, won 3-0, splendid. Emma said I was actually enjoying myself on this holiday, instead of being a like an escaped mental patient like I normally am every summer - again something to do with the change of job probably. She says I am constantly active and should learn to “just be”. Just be what? Illogical. Did a Sudoku.

Ate “out” at the Lakeside “Inn”, actually quite nice because we got seats outside on the verandah overlooking the “lake”. Food was pretty standard pub grub fare (the chips in an amusing little basket that resembles... a deep fat fryer wire mesh guffaw) but tasty enough. Had some beer. Went back to the lodge, had some more beer. Match of the Day - Newcastle won 3-0 AGAIN! I could get used to this holiday thing.

Number of arguments: 0
Number of accidents: 0 not counting the wet arse incident
Anxiety level: no reading

Friday, 25 August 2017

Center Parcs Whinfell Forest Day 1

Every 20 years or so I change jobs, and the timing of this year’s event meant that I couldn’t take much holiday, as it would be unpaid and I am mean sorry I mean careful with the family’s money. Fortunately Emma was selflessly happy to commit to six weeks of tedium with a house full of uncommunicative boys, with no hint of constant moaning about it.

The family’s only excursion so far this summer has been a single night of camping at Greencarts Farm, a brutally exposed spot with a lovely view of the bleak, wind-battered ‘rugged’ beauty of Hadrian’s Wall country, and with comforts fully evoking the spirit of Roman soldiers, inexplicably patrolling a freezing frontier thousands of miles from their sunny olive-grove homes for dubious political reasons. I’m sure it’s absolutely gorgeous at Greencarts every now and then, but this day wasn’t now or then.

In fact it was only Emma, Michael and Gerry who enjoyed that sleepless, force nine gale night in an industrial-strength tent. It was with a tinge of guilt that I whispered “Pizza?” to Joseph as we drove at high speed away from the campsite back to our warm, dry home with wifi and that. However there was one key benefit to this camping trip: for Emma it made Center Parcs desirable by comparison.

I’m not completely heartless and had booked a single day off work - my birthday - enabling us to take a long weekend trip to the Whinfell Forest site near Penrith. The boys were massively up for it, cooped up as they had been for several weeks with only Xbox and Weetabix at hand to fend off the creeping sense of pointlessness and despair that permeates the summer holidays. So on the Friday morning we packed the car, as usual somehow seeming to take our entire worldly possessions with us for three night stay - mainly technology and spare trousers that won’t be worn.

I co-opted Joseph for the biannual ritual of the bike rack: how does it work, there’s a bit missing, shit it’s upside down, hang on that’s going to break the window NO DON’T DO THAT MY FINGER IS TRAPPED JUST DO WHAT I SAY etc. We then discovered that the kids had all grown out of their bikes, with the larger two too small for J and M but too big for G. They also all had several Center Parcs bike locks wrapped around them from previous visits. J decided he couldn’t bear the shame of this and spent half an hour unsuccessfully trying to remove it with a junior hacksaw. A valuable learning experience for him should he decide to take up bike theft when he’s at Uni in Manchester.

J casually mentioned en route that there had been dire warnings about not travelling that day due to engineering works on the West Coast Mainline. Seems this sort of situation has a hypnotic effect on some folk, who insist on having major road accidents just to make things worse: had to find a back-road detour around the inevitable caravan pile-up on the A69. Incredibly, this actually worked and as I smugly glanced back at the long queues on the main road behind us, made a mental note to be especially vigilant on our return journey for potential karmic balancing.

On check-in, given silicon wristbands with embedded RFID tag, granting access to the lodge and swimming pool lockers; probably also tracking our movements and profiling our thoughts. I was much impressed, but it just added to Emma’s sour disgust for the Metrocentreness of it all. The lodge is nice enough and has a chalkboard, so of course there was a large sketch of a turd with “Dad” written under it within seconds. Crucially for a woodland holiday, you can now get Wifi anywhere - bliss guaranteed. Weirdly, half the folk here are from the East Midlands. Perhaps it just wouldn’t be exotic enough to go to their local Center Parcs? You can just hear them commenting on how Northern everything is, all pancakes and pedalos.

Ate ‘out’ at faux French brasserie/bistro/whatever Cafe Rouge. Had to correct Michael’s unintended order of Escargots, averting a potential incident as we explained why the prawns were so small and curled up. Shame really, as the rest of the grub, whilst tasty enough, was to French cuisine as sloppy yellow chip shop curry is to downtown Beijing street food. Back to the lodge for Emma’s fix of Eastenders, and that rarest of entertainments: a family conversation. The best thing about this place is that it’s much harder for your kids to avoid/ignore you.

Number of arguments: 0
Number of accidents: 0
Anxiety level: condition orange

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

2016, the year of Celebrity Death

<rant alert>

So today it's Carrie Fisher and Liz Smith. It seems that popping your clogs is the latest celeb fad, the last ditch way to get column inches when all else fails.

I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I do wonder why some folk get so maudlin each time someone famous moves into the next phase of their career. I know some like to think of Leonard Cohen or Caroline Aherne as a having a special place in their life, but I find it hard to be especially moved by the passing of someone I've never met. If you're a fan of Bowie then you might mourn that there will be no more of his artistic outpourings, but George Michael hasn't had a hit for 20 years despite his 'A list' status and the inevitable flood of "OMG the world has lost a(nother) genius" type gush.

It also seems that there are criteria for mawkishness. In a summary of the 2016 death toll on the radio earlier the presenter listed the names above, but euphemestically finished the list with "and others"; perhaps Lemmy's name wouldn't have elicited the same emotional response, at least not from your average Radio 4 listener.

As each famous name has popped up on the 'BREAKING NEWS' alerts, there has been a gathering sense of 2016 being an annus horribilis, and much debate has been given to this. This attention has been focused on the unusually high celebrity mortality rate, as you might expect given that celebrities are simply people with a talent for getting your attention. This year certainly has been a busy time for the emo groundsman, but his annual crop of actors, singers and well-known persons of dubious merit is but a tiny, if bling-laden cohort in the queue for reckoning. For every celeb there's a hundred talented people who pass away without it being announced via push alerts on your mobile phone. Oh and what about the continuing bloodbath in Syria, Nigeria, Iraq? Oh yeah, that.

If 2016 has been the year of celebrity deaths, then I fervently hope that it also comes to mark the death of celebrity culture. I'm sure we reached "peak twat" some time ago. Let's have a think about the real people, not the fake tanned, HD eyebrowed, shiny white toothed, eating disorder botox monsters that occupy so much of our cultural airtime.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Majorca day 6 and day 7 well really it was day 8

The sun returned on our last couple of days in Majorca, and Emma got out the factor 500 spray again. We’d had a brief respite from her spraying on Thursday when we visited the caves at Porto Cristo, although I had had to point out that the sun doesn’t shine underground. We decided to hit the beach at Puerto Pollença (we had to go there at least once given all the conversations about the place in previous weeks) and do that sunbed thing that normal people do. Emma put on a nice Summer frock (£3 from the charity shop) but then changed it for another one because she thought the first one was a bit revealing. I insisted she change back, on the grounds that nobody wants to stare at her ankles anyway.

She needn’t have worried: arriving at PP we discerned a noticeably more British feel, with lots of mottled lobster and blue-white cellulite on show, replacing the wall-to-wall olive-skinned slim mediterranean healthiness of Pollença old town. We grabbed a shaded table at a seafront restaurant and chose from a typical Majorcan menu - pizza, burgers, fries, spaghetti carbonara etc.

After lunch we tried something I thought we’d never do - paid €22 for the privilege of sitting on a sunbed under a beach parasol all day, in the full knowledge that everyone would get bored after about 3 hours. And that’s about how long our one and only holiday sun-lounge / beach visit lasted, although I did extract maximum chill-out. I even got my shirt off, confident that I would be well camouflaged in the surroundings, and managed to read some dumbed-down physics. I could actually start to get into this “holiday” thing.

Meanwhile the kids splashed about in the sea, until Joseph arrived back complaining of a rash. Next to return was Michael - he’d been minding his own business snorkelling until Gerry started hitting him. When I confronted Gerry about this he was indignant, arguing robustly that Michael has annoyed him on many unspecified occasions in the past. Joseph intervened and started playing with Gerry, but all three were distracted when a couple of less than statuesque women a few yards away decided to have a topless paddle - not something the boys had ever seen at Center Parcs or Whitby. The women came back to the beach and joined their partners, one of them donning a Sunderland football shirt… saying nowt.

Back at the villa I gathered together the dregs of the fridge for an evening meal. In the Spanish sunshine “leftovers” becomes “mezze”, especially when there’s loads of Sangria and San Miguel left. We would have finished off with a magnum lolly each, but it transpired that Michael had eaten nine of the ten in the box (in two days, impressive). Found a bag of orange Doritos in the draw so had these instead - Michael ate most of those as well, although Emma must have got quite a few judging by the docker’s belch she let rip.

I was determined to see the dramatic scenery of the Cap Formentor (the north-eastern peninsula of the island) before we left, so J and I went for a drive up after tea. Basically it’s 40 minutes of crazy mountain road and cliffs, with the biggest danger being that you could plunge to your death whilst gawping at the view. Drove all the way up to the lighthouse, couldn’t buy a cuppa as I didn’t have any cash and they didn’t take cards, so drove back again. We stopped outside the mouth of a tunnel on the way back to take photos. A crumbling old stairway led up the cliff face, a sheer drop on one side; in a lame attempt to show off to Joseph I started climbing up it. Joseph said “Get down dad.” I quickly complied.

When we got back I went for a final swim in the pool in the twilight, almost hoping for a mosquito bite to justify the money we’d spent on sprays and candles. Not a nibble Maybe they were put off by the Dorito smell.

In the morning we crammed the lego, socks and technology into the cases. Poor Gerry had to leave his wooden rubber band-shooting gun behind - if you want to know why, read my 2012 Cornwall blog. Decided to spend the day at the Joan Miró museum in Palma to kill time until the flight that evening, so drove down and parked up. Walking out of the car park, Joseph stepped in the only puddle in Majorca. This time we didn’t get past the tourist junk sellers, and Gerry spend the remainder of his holiday dosh on an orange selfie-stick - I can hardly think of anything more apposite.

Had an organic sarnie in a nice little cafe. The we all needed a loo visit and so wandered into the Fundación Juan March, a very smart modern art gallery. Unfortunately all anyone else wanted to do was have a wee in it so the Dali, Miró and Picasso works hardly got a look. Michael did get told off for touching a painting and an attendant quickly collapsed Gerry’s selfie stick with a brusque “No!”

Unable to find the Joan Miró musem, I did a quick Google and it turned out to be several miles away. Round about this time everything in Palma closed. Bloody siesta. We eventually found somewhere to sit out of the sun on La Rambla, scoffing muffins and apples purchased from a grumpy woman in the nearby Eroski supermarket. There were others sitting around evidently also stuck for something to do on a Spanish afternoon before the flight back to Blighty or Berlin, and without the stomach for yet another church.

Spotted a graffito on a street corner: “Tourists go home!” So that’s what we did. Drove to the airport, forgot to refuel the rental car (bill imminent). Had a shouty panic when it looked like we’d lost one of the baggage tags until Joseph pointed out that we actually only had four bags. Only hot food we could find was Burger King, so found a seat away from where someone had just regurgitated their chorizo cheesy bites. On the plane, I was straining to understand the dialect that the people around me were speaking, until I realised it was “Geordie”. Now I know what it’s like for Southerners…

We’re definitely back home now. The boys have reverted to their mantra of "what can I eat", and tonight we had fish finger sandwiches for tea.

Later.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Majorca day 5

Finally worked out where to take our rubbish, and just as well - this week our villa has been the venue for several episodes of “Man V. Watermelon”, and not even my boys will eat the outer skin so we had a large quantity of ant-food to get rid of. The resident notes warn about the dire consequences of leaving rubbish in the villa too long (rotting smells, more ants, cockroaches) or outside the villa (rats, wolves, wolverines, vampire bats, komodo dragons) and that it’s our responsibility to get rid of it, but doesn’t say exactly where to dump it. Eventually found a site in the lane leading to the villa’s drive, with a choice of three skips for the environmentally conscious: landfill, landfill or landfill. Seems the Spanish don’t share our anxiety about removing the cellophane window from an envelope before placing it and the paper part in correctly colour-coded bins, shortly before the whole lot is landfilled.

Hopefully they won’t mind me dumping the copious quantity of broken glass we’ve generated this week, taking full advantage of the unforgiving tiled floors throughout. Emma first dropped a high-ball glass, then hurled a tumbler across the kitchen, and then for good measure Michael shattered a nice pot pourri jar thing in the bog. Each incident had a wider scatter pattern than the last; maybe if we coat the entire floor of the villa they won’t notice anything. Certainly we need to ensure that the the damage is symmetrical, so the other pot pourri jar has to go.

I volunteered to make lunch, using up stuff we had in the fridge: some chicken breast portions, spuds, tomatoes, an onion and some garlic. Guess what we had? That’s right - chicken, spuds, tomatoes, onion and garlic fried in some Spanish version of Stork margarine the last tenants left behind. It’s like Ready Steady Cook in here - there are theoretically enough utensils to cook with, but somehow it’s just too difficult unless you can fit it inside the tiny microwave oven. I reckon the villa owners have shares in local restaurants. Anyway it went down well enough, due mainly to a jar of ‘Pollo’ seasoning - fresh food just doesn’t work without artificial enhancement.

Bad weather forecast today (only 26 degrees, slight chance of some rain at 5pm for half an hour or so) so opted to visit the Cuevo del Drach, the sweetly named show cave at Porto Cristo an hour down the coast. Another thing about Mallorcans - they’re schizophrenic. Everyone is nice as paella to your face, but put them in a car and they turn into Jeremy Clarkson on a day when there’s no hot food. Driving a rental car, you might as well have a bumper sticker reading “Abuse me please”, as evidenced by the git in a small Fiat who reacted to my overtaking him doing 40 by speeding up to 70 then tailgating me for several miles. Thing is, I knew he would do it, but couldn’t resist taking the bait.

Porto Cristo is considerably less genteel than Pollença, as evidenced by the preponderance of lurid fascias advertising ‘Self Service’ restaurants. I was also unimpressed by the novelty penis-shaped carved wooden bottle openers, hanging from a large penis-shaped wooden stand, to be found in several/all of the gift shops - Majorca’s version of the classic Blackpool hat with a turd stuck on the front, with the strapline “Shit head”. Of course the place was rammed with coachloads in for the day from Alcudia, unmistakably British: all tats and texting.

Turned up in good time for the start of the cave tour. About 200 people arrived after us and the queue was backing up onto the car park, so the staff asked everyone to form two additional side-queues which fed into the, er, same gateway, prompting that unedifying spectacle of folk quickly calculating whether they should stick or twist. These Johnnies just don’t understand the beautiful and ancient art of queuing, the joyous feeling of success when you get in before other people, even though it makes no bleeding difference.

The caves were of course breathtaking, awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping etc. at first, but after you’ve seen 5000 or so stalactites you’ve seen ‘em all, and stalagmites are just wannabe stalactites. It’s especially difficult to achieve a meditative state when you’re chivvied along by a stream of bloody tourists. However this tour has a nice touch - at the bottom of the cave you are treated to a short but mesmerising classical concert from a quartet in a boat, yes in a blue-lit rowing boat, floating gently past you on the underground Lake Martel in the dark. A genuinely touching moment, broken only by Michael dropping a large water bottle on the floor which then rolled under the seats in front of us and hit someone on the back of the leg.

Over dinner Emma asked how I was getting on with the book I’m reading about Facetime. I eventually worked out she was referring to Why Does E = mc2 by Professor Brian Cox (and some other bloke) about relativity, and - well work it out. Michael was asking what it would be like if cats could breath life back into dead humans, and suggesting a title for a new series of films: “Lord of the Roast Chicken”. I think we’re all going a bit villa-crazy and it’s just as well we’ve only got one day left.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Majorca day 4

Headed out for a road trip through the Serra de Tramuntana, the range of spiky volcanic mountains that runs across the Northern end of the island. The road had been described in a guide as “not for the faint-hearted”, which presumably referred to the panic that my passengers would experience as I blithely swung round the hairpin bends aside precipitous drops, whistling “The Self Preservation Society”. After a while I commented that Joseph was no longer “weirded out” and had loosened his white-knuckled grip on the door handle, to which he replied “I’ve got past that now; I know I’m going to die.”

Stopped at the pretty town of Valldemossa, did another spot of unsuccessful sunglasses/hat shopping then found a place that did traditional Mallorquin cuisine for lunch. J and I shared an “Arroz Brut”, a hearty stew of cheap cuts of don’t-ask meat, rice and vegetables. Very nice it was, but also rich and filling, and it has cured Joseph of his curiosity about local grub. I later found out that its name translates as “dirty rice”, but it’s too far to drive back to ask for a discount. Michael used the ashtray to put his bread in, and when we asked him to desist pointed out that it was clean so what’s the problem? Typical bloody Dunphy. Afterwards I obliquely hinted that I really wouldn’t mind looking round the Monastery, but was met with cold stares. So that’ll be no.

Continued on the road of death through mind-boggling mountain scenery up to Sa Calobra, surely the hardest-won day out: a 25km round trip of insane loops and bends, even a ‘spiral bridge’, in which the road bends round and loops under itself. At the other end you queue for 20 minutes to get into the car park, operating one-in-one-out with every leaver paying a man in a kiosk in cash only, after he calculates your fee at the rate of €0.0468 per minute. No really. This seems to be typically Mallorquin, having a middle-aged bloke (or better two) do something a machine could do in a fraction of the time. Hmmm….

Once parked you walk down to the port then follow the coast round for 10 minutes, bizarrely though two floor-lit person-sized tunnels blasted through the rock, until you arrive at a stunning cove where a small stream ‘Torrent de Pareis’ empties into the sea. Surrounded on all sides by high mountains is a deep shingle beach with a narrow shoreline in which you can swim in the shallows. Don’t think there were many germans or brits here. We looked whiter than the shingle.

Later I discovered what had been missing from my holiday so far. Sitting outside a restaurant in the Placa Major I asked what beers they had; with a quizzical look the waiter said, “Umm, San Miguel. We have San Miguel.” He might well have followed up with “Of course we only have San Miguel - this is Spain. Most people in Pollença drink wine anyway, you stereotypical English lager lout.” The nameless aching void filled, I slept soundly that night.

If you ever see me without an umbrella, then don your sou’wester because it’s going to rain. Likewise as I have forked out for anti-mosquito outdoor spray, the last (and most expensive) anti-mosquito citronella candle in the supermarket and several types of mosquito repellent body spray, naturally there is a total dearth of the little buggers. We have broken every rule, leaving doors open and lights on and food scraps everywhere, but no sight of our whiny friends. The sprays and candles are pristine.

Ants are a different matter. The villa guidance notes advise that food should be kept only in the cupboards (of which there are none) or fridge, and food scraps such as crumbs (!?) should not be left lying around, especially near beds. Clearly the author was unaware that our kids pretty much sit and sleep on mounds of discarded apple cores, half-eaten bowls of cereal and bread crusts. There is probably a german bloke in the next villa blogging about how despite the warnings there are no ants around; that’s because word has gone out in the Majorcan ant community and they’re having a week-long fiesta in our digs. I’ve told the kids that ants are actually edible so they should stop whinging about the bread moving.

The Dunphy effect seems to propagate to nearby people and objects. The owner of the villa has been hovering around trying to get the lawn mown, but his lawnmower has mysteriously broken down. No doubt it will kick back into life moments after we leave, overheat and burn down the garden shed.

* Getting out of the car, Joseph said “Oh here are my sunglasses.”

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Majorca day 3

Awoke to the Spanish sunrise, a cock crowing in the distance, the faint peal of a church bell drifting on the dewy morning air.

Like sh*te. I was ripped from my slumber by the unmistakeable click... click... ... click of a Lego gun followed by Joseph braying "Gerry shut up man". J is sleeping on a mattress on the living room floor rather than - ugh - share a room with Michael or Gerry (who - ugh - refuse to share with each other). It was just as well because we planned to get up early to visit the weekly market in Pollença.

Emma alerted me to a problem with the TV: Gerry had managed to switch the input to the satellite box and it seems that the previous occupants of the villa had a penchant for low-grade German porn. As I wrestled with the controls, standing in front of the screen to protect Gerry's delicate sensibilities, he was giving it the "Whoa what's that, I'm confused, what's going on" gambit whilst desperately trying to catch a glimpse. The kids forget I was a boy once and can predict every wile and racket. Well let's be honest with boys that doesn't take much, just ask yourself "What would my appendages do if they didn't have to be controlled by a socially conditioned brain?"

Emma didn't want to walk into town so we drove down, spent 20 minutes getting into the car park that we could already see was full so that we could get back out again, drove back to the villa and walked back into town. The place was heaving, tourists drawn from every villa miles for miles and squeezed into the Placa Major so they could shuffle guiltily past the ranks of stalls flogging decorative crockery, jewellery and other useless stuff sourced from the nearest market stall trinket wholesaler. We did have a target purchase - Joseph had somehow lost his sunglasses. We had searched the villa and J had checked the car.* Well I can only assume that Spanish men are born with sunglasses growing from their heads because despite being apparently legally mandated apparel for scooter-riding Mediterranean soccer ultras, every single shop sold only women's sunglasses, and clothes and footwear for that matter.

J offered to cook a fish dish for tea, and so we braved the local supermarket with the faintly comical name "Eroski". The place was rammed with Germans and Brits tensely jostling trolleys and smaller wheeled baskets, clearly designed by someone who has never broken their neck falling over a suitcase dragged behind a Japanese tourist on the London Underground. It was easy to discern nationality: the Germans strode purposefully around whereas the Brits looked deeply uncomfortable, clumsily muttering hybrid continental niceties such as "Scuzi por favor", evidently bowed low by the stigma of Brexit shame.

We wanted some, y'know, white fish for the recipe, but confronted with a glaring array of enormous and unidentifiable sea life on the fish counter, incongruously manned by a slim, pretty blond young lass, J wimped out. I am 46 and therefore have no cred left to lose, so I brazened it out. It was an alarming experience, watching this slightly-built girl enacting a splatter-movie scene, casually snipping large fish open with massive scissors then ripping out the innards, splashing blood and guts all over herself, the table where she worked and the floor. Useful skills.

Back at base, J prepared the tea: fish with crispy topping made from breadcrumbs, pesto, lemon and herbs, with boiled spuds and salad. When he called "Daaa-ad" for about the fourteenth time I wearily trudged into the kitchen prepared to say "When it goes ding", but this time there really was a problem... No gas. We had already become vexatious tenants by repeatedly calling the villa rep to ask dumb questions like how to switch on the water jet in the pool (it's not a water jet, it's for cleaning the pool you noob) and how to find the safe (oh here it is right in front of me). Emma's summary: "it's like being at home, but harder." Quite.

Throughout this trip I have prophesied doom, so it's reassuring when it comes off in a minor way. The boys were getting a bit overly boisterous in the pool, and I said to Emma, "Within half an hour Michael will have had an accident and there will be blood in the pool." Guess what? (OK it was just a bitten tongue). Watched J do somersaults into the water with an inflatable clamped to his backside this evening, counting the hours until we get back on the plane.

Quote of the day from Michael: "Mam, if you had to eat one of us which one would you choose?"