'This is the best summer holiday EVER!'
Not my words, but those of my nine year-old stepdaughter and six year-old son. What provoked such an outlandish statement, you might ask?
A visit to Disneyland? A water park paradise experience in Majorca? A bucket-and-sand holiday by the seaside? None of the above. In fact, my kids have been going to SCHOOL this summer. Yes, really. And they love it.
Let me explain. A summer holiday was not on the cards for our family this year. My wife started a new job not so long ago and money is tight since I became a house dad early this year.
Instead, I thought I'd be able to cope perfectly well with a nine, six and four-year-old at home 24 hours a day.
But after the first week of the interminably long summer break, my stress levels had soared to a dangerous high and my throat was raw from shouting: 'STOP BICKERING.'
Added to that was the sheer, unbelievable expense of dragging three kids around, from cinema to theme park to ice cream van. Not to mention the irritating lack of gratitude they showed by uttering the words 'What's next?' after each venture. And don't even get me started on my attempts to get them to keep up with their reading and writing while school's out. It just wasn't happening.
Enough was enough. I needed them off my hands and they needed me off theirs before we did some serious damage to each other, either psychologically or physically.
I mentioned this to my Twitter community and they came back with a variety of suggestions. And so, after a few phone calls and online inquiries I enrolled the eldest two into a cooking school followed by an activity camp, both being held at schools a stone's throw from where we live.
Now these things don't come cheap – around £30 per child per day – but the way I figured it, I was getting through that amount of cash in days out and hush money anyway. Besides, you can't put a price on sanity – and the rewards have been priceless.
The kids' first week at Curious Cook school paid for itself in terms of the amount and quality of food the children brought home. I signed them up expecting nothing more from the week-long classes than a few fruit salads and a pile of biscuits. But in fact, it was so good that I barely had to cook a tea all week, and there were leftovers for their mother and I to eat, too.
The lovely teacher, Aisie, taught them to make various breads, cakes, ice cream, pizzas, sausages, jerk chicken, koftas, brownies, couscous, and a whole lot more. And it was all delicious.
The biggest benefit of all is that they have kept hold of that newly-acquired passion for cooking and now insist on getting involved with making their own teas.
After such meaty rewards from their cooking week, I could never have anticipated my kids would get just as much, if not more, out of their activity camp activities.
There are hundreds of such clubs run throughout Britain, but after some word-of-mouth recommendations and a chat with the organiser, I signed our two up with Team Camp.
At first, the kids were apprehensive. They wanted to sit around all day staring at the TV and playing on the laptop, but once I'd removed those options from them, the idea of meeting new friends and getting from under my feet for a fortnight suddenly appealed.
The pluses for both sides have been palpable. The children get to do drama, dance, laser-tagging, gymnastics, woodland walks and treasure hunts and a whole range of activities designed to improve their confidence, promote leadership skills and teach them about sportsmanship and camaraderie; I get to sit around all day watching TV and playing on the laptop.
The penny really dropped that this was 'the best holiday ever' the other night when I noticed the six year-old's bedroom was silent. I presumed he'd been so wiped out by the day's activities, that he'd fallen asleep.
Instead, I found him sitting bolt upright, legs crossed and staring into space.
'Are you OK, son?' I asked.
'Yes, Dad,' He replied. 'I'm just practising my yoga. They taught it us at Team
• For more info about Team Camp go to www.teamcamp.org.uk
• For more info about Curious Cook go to www.curiouscook.co.uk