Well, the big fat family holiday is over and we are all back in our respective homes in Kent, Sussex and Wiltshire. This is the first time I've ever holidayed in the UK, not entirely surprising for someone who had visited Australia before she ever went to Scotland. It's the first time I've been on holiday with my extended family. Would I do it again? You bet I would/wouldn't* (delete as applicable)
For reasons best known to myself, I had pictured sitting in the acre and a half of gardens at the barn in the summer sunshine, a good book in one hand and an elderflower presse in the other while the children browned themselves gently on the beach. The reality was far less pleasant. The West Country could easily have been renamed the Wettest Country with days of torrential rain and temperatures hardly out of single figures. The 'narrow lanes' in the brochure proved to be a spaghetti bowl of windy, narrow byways with 8 foot high hedges on either side blocking out the views of the beautiful Devon countryside, light, oxygen, sanity....... The barn was at the end of a particularly tortuous 5 mile one. We all cheered when we pulled out of that lane for the last time. The road down to the beach required crampons and abseiling equipment.
Moira had spent the week babbling away happily, oblivious to the fact that she was directing us down cart tracks and no through roads. She suffered daily abuse but it didn't seem to dent her enthusiasm.
We visited the South Devon Chilli Farm to sample the Bhut Jolokia, one of the hottest chillis in the world. It was an experience akin to ironing your tongue. On the first and last days we did get onto the beach at Slapton Sands (no sand) and Blackpool Sands (no sand) a lovely beach that was just a little too Boden Mummy meets Organic Mummy for my liking. The children all seemed to be called Raphael and Xavier or Kitty and Tilly (or anything else ending in a 'y'), the mummies were all toned and missing their daily workout at the gym back home in Richmond, the dads fortunately couldn't get signals on their mobile phones so we were at least spared the loud twatcalls to the office. It did have a lovely beach cafe selling organic food but by the time you'd paid the £6 parking fee - yes Dear Reader, £6. They didn't mention that little surprise in the tourist guides - there wasn't much left over. We had only gone for lunch but having forked out £12 between us just to park I insisted we stayed there till sundown among the squalling children and fractious parents.
I took The Boy and The Girl to Exeter for the day which was much more their thing to be honest. We live in the country so we don't really need to holiday there as well. We munched delicious nachos in the sunshine at Giraffe, casually wondering about the man with the red hair who was wearing a ball gown, before they bankrupted me in Jack Wills. I loved Exeter. It has a nice vibe. I told The Boy he may go to University there.
Top holiday moments were both thanks to my parents. "So what are these jalapeno things?" said my mother as she put a forkful in her mouth - I've never known her speechless for so long - and the moment when my dad's false teeth fell out in the middle of dinner in a restaurant was not to be missed.
My top tips for family holiday survival in no particular order are:
1. You're staycationing. It's not a hot country. Take a coat
2. No dogs, not even well behaved ones like my sister's. Dogs bark. They bark especially at 5am every morning and wake you up. They don't however, wake up their owners
3. Jump leads are good - unless you carry distress flares of course. That way, if you have an unexpected flat battery you don't have to try and direct the breakdown services to an unknown location somewhere in South Devon. Imagine the scenario......
"This is ABC Breakdown, how may we help?"
"Er, I have a flat battery"
"OK, that's no problem we'll send someone to you as soon as possible. Where are you?"
"Could you be a little more precise?"
"What is your nearest town?" Dartmouth, it's about 10 miles away"
"Well I think I passed a signpost a while back saying 'You are entering Little Aresendofnowhere, please drive carefully' a while back"
"OK, can you give me a landmark"
"Can you give me a laddder?"
"Hedges, lots and lots of hedges. That's all I can see"
"OK, is there anything behind the hedges that might make it easier to find you?"
"Damned if I know. They are all about 8 feet high."
4. All snorers should be forced to share a room, preferably in another holiday cottage a few miles away
5. No dogs
6. Take a map. Do no, repeat not, rely on Satellite Navigation. Sometimes progress isn't all it's cracked up to be
7. Lush green countryside means one thing. Rain. Do not leave your vast collection of sudden unexpected rainshower-bought umbrellas at home resulting in the purchase of yet another (very expensive) umbrella
8. Did I say no dogs?
9. When renting a holiday cottage in Devon bear in mind that 'narrow lanes' actually means virtually impassible in the normal world. Taking your car for a few practice laps round the maze at Hampton Court Palace is adviseable just to get you acclimatised. Also, bear in mind that driving speed is directly proportional to the width of the road. The narrower it is, the faster they drive. An adrenalin injection is also adviseable to restart your heart after a Range Rover Sport narrowly avoids parking on your bonnet
10. Don't forget to pack your sense of humour. You'll need it.
Follow Melanie Jones on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MelRiverCottage