Today will be stressful – packing for the family holiday. If you’re a mother, you will know what I mean. If you’re male (not being sexist or anything), read on…

There is oceans of washing to do. It seems a bad idea to leave dirty clothes to fester in the laundry basket, plus there is all the bedding. I don’t like the idea of returning after two weeks away to sheets that have been slept/sweated/dribbled in for a week and then locked into a room to ferment. Obviously I cannot wash it all the day we leave, but it feels better if it’s washed the day before – so just one night of body fluids sweated into them.

Then there is the animal stuff. Dog and grumpy-cat taken to kennels, their bedding and towels left here. I can leave them – and be welcomed home by the thick odour a la dog, or I can wash them before I go. Thank goodness for washing machines and please can mine not break today. Of course, not everyone has this problem. I have known people (not female) who quite cheerfully shove dirty clothes into a bag before a holiday; and then return with the same bag of dirty clothes at the end. I am not entirely sure if they were worn, or washed, in between, because I didn’t like to ask.

If you enjoyed this, you will love my new book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.
I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

The US link is here:

The India link is here:

The UK link is here:



The Story of Old Pafos


They came on a Saturday, the sun baked stones giving as much heat as the low sun. There were five of them, their car old white and large, more a van than a car, as it clunked its way up the hill. They drove through the new town first, carefully, avoiding stray pedestrians and independent dogs, winding their way through narrow streets of flashing lights and the colourful tat that waited for inebriated tourists to buy.

The young man held the map. More of a boy than a man, only his willowy height and deep voice giving clues to his age. He swore loudly as they met yet another unmarked one way street, another road they couldn’t drive along. Finding the old town was difficult, more elusive than even the spelling, which changed from Paphos to Pafos on nearly every signpost. He directed them through ever narrow streets, almost touching the tiny painted houses on either side, heading first towards the sea, then doubling back, playing an elusive game of hide and seek, determined to win.

The other man bent towards the map, offering advice, pitching his own wits against the traitor roads and the misleading map. This man was older, though not significantly so. He was thicker set, with tanned skin and eyes that gave witness to Japanese ancestry. Together they solved problem after problem, directing the driver around taverns and shops and historic monuments, until at last the road, in defeat, allowed them to climb the hill, to leave the modern sea front, to approach the old town.

They climbed steadily higher, the buildings became less well loved, in need of paint and repair. The man-boy announced they had arrived, the driver, his father, began to search for somewhere to park. There was a sign, a large arrow, announcing the entrance to the municipal carpark. The father swung the car-van round, ready to angle through the narrow gap, realised in time that beyond the side of the building, in the dark shade, the sign pointed not to a slip road but to steps, steep and sheer. Steps that plummeted to who knows where. They laughed, the family, laughed. The wife praised her husband for stopping in time, looking into his face, noticing he had caught the sun and his eyes were very green. The girl leant into her tanned lover, she looked younger then her years, of fragile build, with a waterfall of brown hair. They thought it a joke, an oddity of a foreign town. They drove on, unperturbed.

The carpark lay below the town, curved roads leading to tree shaded spaces. Theirs was the only vehicle, which they considered to be lucky. The husband selected his space, the man-boy searched the map for where to walk, the mother pulled on her hat, the girl flicked her hair. They left the car, followed the winding path that led into town. They were alone.

It was still hot, the air muggy despite the low sun. An old car passed them, its engine loud in the silent street. A bald man was driving, a tiny headscarfed woman beside him. The family stepped onto narrow paths to allow them to pass, the father checking the map before leading them on. There were no signs, but they found the church easily enough. Before they reached it, they could hear singing, deep, male, chanting. The church sounded full, must contain the whole town they reasoned, wondering if today was special, a festival they didn’t know about, not one listed in their guide book. The road to the church was in need of repair, great pot holes caused them to watch their feet, to tread carefully. Which is why they didn’t see the eyes watching. And is how they saw the gun.


It was lying in the road, right in front of the church, dust covered, old. The man-boy bent as though to retrieve it, cautioned by his father to not touch it, it was obviously a toy, probably germ-ridden, better left in the dust. The tanned man recognised the model, gave it a name, thought no more about it. They walked on. The gun lay, photographed but useless.

The father checked his map. Bored, the young couple and the boy wandered around the church. There was a wall lined street, covered in graffiti, the pictures clever, artistic, enticing. The girl posed in front of them. Became part of them.


The father, following the map, had wandered down another street. His wife hastened to follow, warning him that the younger party had gone in the other direction, suggesting he should stop, let her go back for them. She was cross, irritated at his marching off, worried by their wandering, fearing the air was too hot for unnecessary walking. He stopped while she went back to the church, stood still, wondering which path to choose. She couldn’t shout, the worshippers in church would hear her. Instead she whistled, long and shrill, hoping the boy would recognise the sound from frequent dog walks. There was silence. Then, at last, a series of answering whistles, short and responsive, coming nearer.

The two young men rounded the corner. They were laughing, whistling, making too much noise for people outside an occupied church. She frowned at them, waved towards her husband, hurried back. They followed. It wasn’t until they had all arrived back, were peering at the map over the father’s shoulder, that she noticed the girl wasn’t with them, asked where she was. The boy shrugged, muttered about her not keeping up, being too interested by the graffiti, she knew where the car was, would find them later. The mother refused to move, said they should go back, her daughter would be cross, had wanted to see the market. She insisted they retrace their steps.


Back they walked, over the broken road, past the gun. They still left it lying there, didn’t even notice it now. The singing inside the church continued, the sky heated the stones still hotter, they walked back down the painting lined street. The girl was gone.

A man cycled past, whistling between his teeth, a black cap pulled low over his face, the bike wheels rattling over the uneven street. The family paused. The boy was all for going on, repeating that his sister knew where the car was, she had probably found the market, it was too hot to keep walking. He checked his phone, tried to send a text, but there was no signal. The boyfriend offered to continue looking, checking the map, choosing a route that would join with the market place. He would find her, join the family there. If he failed, they would all meet at the car, drive around until they found her. A motorbike zoomed past. When it was quiet again, the father agreed. He took his son and wife, headed towards the market. The boyfriend rounded the corner behind them, was quickly out of sight.

The boy followed his parents. They were arguing, his mother unhappy at going ahead without her daughter, the father cross and hot. It was terribly hot. The road had deteriorated, was barely a road now. There were fences set up at odd angles to stop the cars. A great digger must have come in the night and removed all the tarmac. Drains stood up, waiting to trip them, stray bricks lay in the dust. The shops they passed were all shut, some with shutters closed, others with goods piled against the doors. As they moved further from the church the air became silent, only their footsteps could be heard as they picked their way along the dusty road.

They rounded a corner and the father lifted his hand, wanting to point to the restaurant he had selected for their dinner. Trip Advisor rating five stars. Hundreds of reviews. The restaurant was there. Empty chairs stacked on tables. Sunshades as closed as the door and windows. An old woman passed them, hurrying in the other direction, tiny, her headscarf pulled tight, face to the ground. They paused. No one would be eating in that restaurant. Not today. They walked on.


The lack of people was beginning to bother them, but not badly. Not until they reached the market. The closed, shuttered, signs hanging limply, market. No people. No bustle. No local crafts spilling onto walkways. Empty. That was when they started to wonder. When irritation turned to unease. Not fear, it was too soon for that. But the weirdness could no longer be denied.

They waited for the girl and her boyfriend to meet them. Long minutes while the sun sent long rays into their eyes and their heads began to ache. The mother crossed the road, peered into a dark shop. Mannequins stared back. Their clothes were ancient, of the kind her own mother might have worn, their painted faces stared back at her. She turned, called to her son, told him to come and see. He arrived reluctantly, laughed when he saw where she was pointing. Lifted his phone for a photograph, turned to call his father. His father was gone.

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They walked together, mother and son. A taxi passed them, the driver an old man with his cap pulled low over his face, but they didn’t notice. They were scanning the streets, calling for the man, for the girl, for the boyfriend. An old woman in an orange dress appeared on a balcony, screamed back at them in an unknown language, was ushered back inside by a man, probably her son. Then nothing. No answering calls, no whistles, no footsteps.

They had no map but they decided they could find the car park, because that is where they all must be waiting. The mother tried to feel angry, to be cross that her husband had again wandered away, that her daughter hadn’t bothered to find them, that the boyfriend hadn’t kept to the plan. But some part of her stopped the anger, whispered that this wasn’t what had happened, gave her heart a faster beat, made something flutter within her.

They headed towards the cliff edge, looked down over the new town below them, the bay, the coast. They knew they needed to turn left, past the grounded boat way out at sea, past the map on the large wooden board, down the slope to the carpark. They passed a family, sitting in the evening heat. An old woman with her headscarf pulled low, sat on a wooden chair, a bald man sat next to her, his cap on his knee. They walked on, eyes watched their backs as they reached the end of the lane, turned left, towards the car park.

The car sat in its space. The carpark was still empty. No other cars. No other people. There was a low stone building, public toilets. The mother said she needed to use them, would just be a minute, the boy could wait outside, then they would decide what to do. He watched his mother disappear into the gloom, pulled out his phone. Still no signal. He waited. He was patient for longer than necessary, then began to call, to ask if she was alright, if she would be much longer. She never answered. Panic began to rise and he pushed open the door, peered into the gloom. No cubicle doors met his gaze, no sinks, no smell of human waste. Just a room. An empty room. No mother.

He gave a cry, leapt back. His mind was a flurry of snowflakes, a blizzard of ideas whirling round, uncatchable. No phone signal, no car keys, no weapon. The gun. They had seen a gun, dismissed it as a toy. Perhaps it wasn’t, perhaps it would save him.

Back up the winding pathway, back along the narrow street, back towards the chanting church, watching his footing, careful over the uneven surface. The gun was gone. Of course it was. Only the imprint of it remained, scarring the dust. All was still, all was silent except for the singing, those chanting voices within the stone church walls. Voices meant people. People who could help, who could explain, who would tell him it was alright, he was imagining things, his family was in a cafe somewhere, sipping cocktails and laughing at his lateness.

He climbed the steps, passed the iron bench, stood for a moment outside the great wooden doors. He didn’t see the mannequins that had walked, stiff legged after him, their old fashioned clothes fluttering in the breeze. He did not see their painted eyes watching him. Their silly painted mouths curve into smiles.

He pressed into the door, leant his weight against it. The door creaked open. Cold air seeped out. The pews were empty. The sound of many voices singing swelled towards him from speakers hung from chains on the ancient beams. The church was empty. Another sound came to him, a noise from behind. He slowly turned…….

It was a Wednesday when the family came. Two young children with their barely old enough parents, taking a break from the beach, searching for the market in the old town. The children, a girl and a boy, skipped beside their mother, oblivious to the heat. They found a space in the crowded carpark and followed the narrow path that wound up to the town. The pavement was old, patterned pebbles worn smooth by many feet over time. They strolled past the old church, as it gave silent shade to the pretty street. Passed shops beckoning them inside with air conditioning and cold drinks. Jostling with other tourists as they entered the market. Lace and leather goods hung from racks and were stacked on shelves. Bright cotton clothing swayed in the breeze of fans, cheerful shopkeepers smiled as they passed. There was turkish delight, and jars of olives and purses studded with beads. They wandered around, telling the children not to touch, the mother buying trinkets, the father checking his watch, suggesting they found a cafe before they drove back to the new town.

They left the market and the crowds, found a narrow street, saw the awning of a cafe, people sitting in the shade. They walked towards it, passing shops that the man ignored but the woman peered in. She was surprised by the mannequins. Some were very old fashioned, wore the sort of clothes her granny might have worn. Others were more modern. There were a couple of female models, one painted to look older than the other,which was very slim with long brown hair. There were also three men. They modelled casual summer clothing and were different sizes. She noticed that one had been painted to look vaguely foreign, a slightly Asian slant to his eyes. Another seemed almost to watch her with his green painted eyes. Then her husband called, and her daughter tugged at her to hurry, and she walked on to the cafe. Her drink was wonderfully cold.

Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, Italy

Holiday Diary 2009

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     Drove 1½ hours from Milan to Lake Como. Checked in to Grand Hotel, Menaggio, which we booked through Citalia.

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The hotel was lovely, with pretty communal areas and a balcony in our room over looking the lake and surrounding hills. Very pretty.

     Strolled around the town. Swam in hotel pool. Ate in hotel, nice meal. Friendly staff.Walked into town and played crazy golf. It was a cold evening.

Day 2: Got up early and went to gym. Then felt ill all day (so not used to exercise!)
We were late into breakfast so the buffet was rather depleted. Lazy day.

Day 3: Didn’t go to gym. (No need to over do it.)

     Hotel were having a Gala night so were putting up some (slightly naff) decorations. Had a very complicated conversation with the maid about getting a larger sheet for the bed as it only has a single sheet on the double bed. Way beyond my language ability level.
Ate lunch in a square in town. Strolled around but it was too hot to walk for long.
Dinner was nice but we had a grumpy waitress who threw down food, spilt drinks and scowled a lot. Probably does too much exercise.

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Sat on balcony and watched fireworks across the lake. They played classical musical and it was magical watching the reflections play across the water.

Day 4: Drove along side of lake and into Switzerland. Took about 2 hours. Beautiful scenery, even the kids thought it was good (“Looks like one of those posters which you know isn’t real. But it is!”) Went to St Moritz. Bit false, mainly hotels and designer shops. Had a lovely homemade soup and cheese sandwich lunch in a cafe.

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The family all went on a train and cable car up to the peak to look at the Alps. Becky got an altitude headache but they all said it was good.

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I got off the train at the first stop and tried to find Heidi’s house. No helpful signposts and I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. The only possible contender I saw was pretty big. My image of Heidi’s grandfather was not multi millionaire. Maybe he extended it when her books became popular.
It was fairly chilly. I met other walkers, who were all wearing full hiking gear complete with boots and walking poles. Wondered if my silk skirt and sandals was inappropriate for mountain walking. Pretended I was local and looked at them like they were over dressed annoying tourists.
Walked down through pine forests, listening to cow bells. It was a mix of very lovely (as it grew warmer on the lower slopes) and a bit scary (because I was on a mountain all by myself without a clue as to where I was.)
When I got back to town my legs were shaking from walking downhill for so long! (Maybe I do need another gym visit.)
Went to co op and bought chocolate and cokes. Drove home after we managed to pay the car park ticket. The machine only took euro notes and we didn’t want swiss francs as change.

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On the way back we stopped at a lake. It was totally perfect. David and the boys stripped off and swam. Lots of squealing when they realised how cold the water was! Luckily no one had a heart attack and we made it back to hotel slightly damp, very hungry, but feeling we had had a good day.

Day 5: David went to the gym then restocked his protein with egg and cheese for breakfast.
Morning by pool, lunch in bar next door.
Spent the afternoon at Villa Carlotta. This is a villa, built in the seventeenth century for a Milanese marquis. It is now a museum and botanical garden.

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We were interested to see it as about fifty years previously, David’s grandparents had been and they had bought an ornament of the statue of Cupid and Psyche by Canova, which now belonged to us. They had the statue at the villa. (Not the original, in case you are wondering. One is in the Louvre in Paris, a second copy is in the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the plaster cast is in the Met in New York.)
We looked at the statue, took some photos (even though lots of signs told us not to) and bought another copy from the gift shop. It is not as well made as the model from fifty years ago, but only cost 16€ so seemed worth continuing the tradition.
The gardens surrounding the villa are very lovely and we spent some time wandering around. It would have been more enjoyable in a slightly cooler season.

Day 6: We took the ferry across the lake to Varrena. The ferries stop right next to the hotel and you constantly heard them announcing all their stops. It wasn’t particularly intrusive, they were only at certain times and not late at night, but whenever I now think about that hotel I hear the chant from the ferry information in my head. Shame they weren’t chanting something useful.

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Varrena is a little town on a hill, full of picturesque lanes and old fishermen cottages. We walked around and then bought slices of pizza which we ate on stone steps leading down to the water. We found a cafe next to the lake and had some very good pancakes before getting the ferry back to Menaggio.
After dinner we walked into town. There was extremely loud music in the car park next to the hotel until 2am. It was like trying to sleep in a night club. Gave up and danced on the balcony for a while.

Day 7: Woke tired and grumpy. David escaped to the gym (coward.)
Morning by the pool, boys did not emerge from their room.
Drove to a viewpoint overlooking Lake Lugano. It was a long drive and a very confusing map. Ate a not very nice ice cream when we got there.
After dinner, a pianist played next to the pool. We listened for a while and James swam (not sure if he was meant to. He didn’t have inflatable crocodile with him, so am hoping it didn’t detract from the music too much.)

Day 8: Packed and left. Drove back to Milan for the flight home. It was very difficult to find a petrol station to refill the hire car before we returned it. Finally bought extremely expensive petrol from a man selling ‘especially refined diesel’.
Flew home. A good holiday.

Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy

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Family Diary August 2009

Day 1: Train from Verona to Milan, 1½ hours. Rather hot because the air conditioning broke.
Checked in to Hotel De La Ville, booked through Citalia.
Nice hotel with good facilities. Looked at pool (small), bar (pleasant) and fitness room (looked okay.)

Walked around Milan looking for somewhere suitable for a family to eat that did not involve taking out a mortgage. Found a pub, which had a free buffet (which was not especially nice) with drinks plus you could order food. We had lasagna and pizzas.

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Wandered around the cathedral, which was very pretty.
There is a nice big square outside where the whole world hangs out.
The outside of the cathedral is covered with some pretty cool gargoyles.
Very gothic.
It took over 600 years to build – which seems excessive until you see it. I expect it caused a few arguments at the time.

Strolled around some posh shops trying on perfumes.

Day 2: Buffet breakfast. We were quite late in eating and it looked like it had been there for a while, though the selection was good. The best bit was a little news sheet that you could pick up as you went in (in various languages.)

Walked around Milan.


Found a ferrari shop.
Bought a ferrari bag.
Also bought a ferrari hat for a friend’s new baby (my family felt he would have sufficient teddy bears and cute clothes.)

Saw a few pretty squares and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Which sounds like another church but is actually a four storey arcade of shops. I am not much interested by shops but the arcade was worth a visit.

I sat in the cathedral square and drank espresso while the family continued shopping. It was the most expensive coffee I have ever sipped, but I told myself I was paying for the atmosphere, not the coffee (or the dirty table.) Watched the world go by.

Bought some Dolce & Gabbana perfume (not sure how my daughter managed to persuade me into that one) and wandered around with the D & G bag pretending to be rich. Image 5
Sandwich/burger from a food hall.
Boys swam in pool on hotel roof (were not impressed by how shallow it was.)

We went to an art gallery. Saw some fantastic art (and some really bad art.) We had wanted to see ‘The Last Supper’ at Santa Maria delle Grazie, however tickets need to be prebooked a couple of months in advance, which we hadn’t realised.

Went to hotel gym with boys. They went in the jacuzzi (which was broken). We used a few machines but all the best ones were broken or had pieces missing. Shame.

Ate in McDonalds. By far the poshest McDonalds I have ever been in!

Walked down to Sforza Castle. This is a fifteenth century castle and at night it is floodlit. There is a big fountain in front and it is very pretty. Had ice creams.

David and I had drinks in the hotel bar. Pleasant.

Day 3: I went to Mass in the cathedral (Duomo). People were queuing to go inside but if you are attending Mass you can go straight in. You need to be appropriately dressed (covered shoulders and knees.) I found it hard to follow the Italian, though there were some discernible words. I just liked being there.

Walked back to the castle. It was way too hot and felt a lot further during daytime. Drank lemonade in the gardens.

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The kids stood in the fountains (other people were too, so I figured they wouldn’t get shot.) A man approached David with some English passports he had ‘found’. He wanted David to go with him to a phone box to phone the owners. David said he would use his mobile at which point the man became very aggressive and snatched them back. I took photos of him which I later showed some police who were in the cathedral square but they were completely disinterested.

Dinner in a restaurant at the top of La Rinascente which is a shopping mall selling designer stuff (pretty boring unless you like that sort of thing) but has a very interesting food hall at the top and a restaurant on the roof. It was lovely, we sat in the balmy evening air over looking the gargoyles on the Duomo. Very atmospheric.

Had drinks (and hot chocolates) in the hotel bar and played cards.

Day 4: Collected hire car and drove to Lake Como.

Taormina, Sicily

Taormina, Sicily

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Family Diary, August 2007

Saturday: Arrived and picked up hire car at airport.
Drove to Hotel Excelsior Palace, which we booked through Citalia.
It was hard to find the car park, all got a bit stressy. Narrow roads, pedestrian walk ways and lack of sign posts did not help.

Our room had a view of Mount Etna. I wondered how far away it was compared to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius.

Sunday: Swam, walked in town, swam.

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The best bit of the hotel is the pool. It is set in the gardens, so you walk down through orange and almond trees,along flower lined pathways, to the pool area.

The pool overlooks the coast on one side and the cliff continues behind the hotel, so you can look up at the mountain tops on the other. It is beautiful.

Not entirely sure that two young boys and a large inflatable crocodile add very much to the atmosphere.

Monday: Swam Lunch in a pizzeria. Walked through the town with David. If you like very crowded walkways and lots of designer shops, you will love Taormina.

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Unfortunately, I hate shopping, especially for clothes, so it was rather wasted on me.

Plus I got blisters from wearing pretty but uncomfortable shoes.

Tuesday: Swam. Bought lunch in a supermarket and ate it in the garden.
Dinner in hotel (nice.)

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Jazz concert in a Greek theatre.

This was excellent. We sat on chairs, listening to some really good jazz while watching the sun go down behind the Greek stage.

It was very romantic (well, it would have been had we not had three quite vocal children with us!)

Wednesday: We decided to drive to Mount Etna. I was very excited, having never been close to a volcano before and having rather a passion for bonfires and burning things in general.
However, the hire car gears jammed up on one of the many extremely steep roads.
We waited in a very hot town (which had no public toilets) for a pick up truck and then a taxi to rescue us.
It was hot and boring and uncomfortable.

Walked through town with David (it was still just a lot of shops and well designed women trotting around.)
Had coffee in a square, which was nice.

Evening meal was by the pool. The hotel had set up tables with lots of candles and flowers. It was so pretty.

Thursday: We got the hotel mini bus down to the beach.
This was a mistake. The hotel was up a cliff, so we couldn’t walk back. We were deposited at the beach and told the mini bus would return in five hours. The beach was full of beautiful people tanning themselves. The chairs were laid out practically next to each other, each with a small sunshade. Five hours is a long time. Even the sea was crowded!
No way you could go for a run, build a sand castle or even swim properly. You just had to lie there, trying to read and sweating away while beautiful people strolled up and down elegantly between the loungers.

Returned to Taormina and bought ice creams.
The new hire car was delivered.
Walked through the town again.

Friday: The boys slept through breakfast so David smuggled them hot chocolates.
David announced he was going to only eat fruit for the rest of the holiday (probably due to seeing all those beautiful people on the beach!)
Swam. David was seen eating bread rolls.

Drove to Etna. Lunch in a Deli in Gliaglosse. David ate a lot more than just fruit (that did not last very long at all!)

Etna was brilliant. We walked over a recent eruption (that May.) It was like being on the moon. There was total silence, no birds or insects, nothing growing. Brilliant.
Rebecca complained it was just a lot of black rock.
We saw some geologists with all their equipment.

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Drove back early so we didn’t miss the car park. Parking was a pain. The hotel used the main car park in Taormina. There was often a queue to get in and it could be hard to find spaces.
I wonder if it is possible to just hire a car for occasional days when actually in Taormina and not to bother actually having one for the whole holiday. It seemed more hassle than it was worth.

Drank peach champagne cocktails and played cards in the bar.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday: Days by the pool and strolling around town.

Tuesday: Went on an excursion, booked through the hotel, to Stromboli.
We were picked up and taken to a little port by coach.
We then were taken by boat to a small island. The children swam and we wandered around for a while. Had some lunch.

The boat then took us to Stromboli, which is an active volcano. About every twenty minutes, a plume of smoke could be seen coming from the top and flowing down the side, then steam as it hit the sea. We stopped on the island and could walk around the town.
Had a drink and looked at the church.

Image 16Then the boat took us around the island. We were given a simple pasta dinner. As it got dark, you could see sparks and fire in the smoke as the volcano erupted. Excellent!

Wednesday to Friday: More time swimming and relaxing.

David and I did another visit to Etna (Rebacca told us she had seen enough black rocks, but the boys came with us.)
We talked to a photographer who had been there at the last eruption. He said he had been climbing up while everyone else was rushing down! He said you could easily see the lava pathways, so it didn’t feel dangerous and he took some really amazing photographs. I bought a couple (one is included at the end. I cannot read his name – he signed them all- I think it is David Sav.)
We wandered around and found the roof of a building that had been completely engulfed by lava. It was so interesting.
There was a clear line, one side everything was dead and covered in black lava, the other side, all was living vibrant forest. Fascinating.
It must be so exciting to actually be there when it erupts, so much power and energy completely unrestrained. So much bigger than anything people do. I like things that remind me of how small I am.

I would have spent more days at Etna, but even David declared he was at saturation point for black rocks.

A brilliant holiday if you like either expensive shops or volcanoes. I realised I should have been a geologist. Bit late now.

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Verona, Italy

Verona, Italy

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Family Diary, August 2009

     Flew Gatwick to Verona. Taxi to Romeo and Guillietta Hotel, booked through Citalia.
Hotel was small, but a great location as it is in an alley right next to the opera arena. Our room was okay but tiny, there was not even room to open the suitcase! However, the air conditioning was good and the shower was excellent. (It should perhaps be noted that in 2014, when we wanted to return to Verona to see an opera, we decided to stay here again. For position and price it is fabulous.)

Lunch in an outside pizza place, Canteena del Arena. Pleasant.
Walked around. Had coffee and ice cream and a spritz (which cost €19 each. Hmm.)
Found a supermarket.

Had dinner in the main square, right next to the Roman amphitheatre (which is where they stage the opera.) It looks better preserved than the one in Rome but is smaller.

Spent the evening walking through pretty squares which the children complained were spooky.

Wednesday: A brilliant day!
I woke 6am and made David get up. The boys joined us and we borrowed bikes from the hotel and cycled round Verona. It was perfect. Lovely cool air, very few people or cars. We saw lots of pretty squares and ancient buildings.

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Back to hotel for breakfast.
Walked to Dante’s square and had coffee and ice cream.
Looked around a market. Some nice ‘touristy’ stuff.
Saw the balcony from ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

At 8pm, we went to the opera (we had pre booked our tickets when in England.) We were shown up to the stone steps, where everyone sat (apart from a few people who had paid extra for chairs in the main arena. I think our view was better, though probably not so comfortable. When we returned in 2014, we took garden chair cushions to sit on!)

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     They herded more and more people in and we kept squashing up until it was completely full. I liked it. It made you realise what it must have been like in Roman times, they sat on the same steps, looking at the same stage.
The two girls next to James (who we didn’t know) had a picnic. Somehow he managed to be invited to share it. He will go far in life.
The opera was brilliant. We had told the children that they had to stay at least until the first Act (it was Aida.) The boys left during the first interval and because the hotel was so near they could safely walk there on their own. A good first introduction to opera for boys.
Rebecca and David both stayed until the end. The Triumphant Entry scene was fantastic – there were 300 people on stage, including four white horses. (After that scene, everyone clapped and cheered and some people thought it was the end and left!)
It was probably not as good musically as The Royal Opera House in London, but without a doubt was the most impressive staging I have ever seen and was a brilliant introduction to opera for anyone who has never seen one. We sat on ancient stone steps and watched the moon rise in the warm sky while listening to the music. It was magical.

     It finished about 12:45. We collected the boys and had a pizza and red wine supper. Everywhere was open, it was as busy as daytime. Went to bed 2am. Great day.

Thursday: Got up 8:30.
Breakfast in hotel (it is an okay breakfast, pleasant buffet and good coffee.)

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Walked to a Roman theatre next to the river.
Woman giving out guide books at the entrance asked our nationality and David said, “German.” Why? We were then given all the information in German, which none of us can read.

Went back to hotel via market square and had iced drinks.

After dinner had hot chocolate in the square. It was very thick and dark, reminded me of blancmange, which my Mum used to make when I was young.

Went to bed early but had a bad night. Thin walls and the man in the next room had stomach upset. Most unpleasant.

Friday: Walked to cathedral. Rebecca had to wear a ghastly blue hooded cape over her shorts.
Drank lemonade on a terrace next to the river.
Lunch in square. Boys had buckets (literally) of lemonade.

Taxi to station, caught 4:30 to Milan. We discussed how noisy the Verona hotel had been. We all thought the sound proofing was very bad. Except for the boys. They said they had not heard a thing. But the lady next door had been very rude and kept banging on their wall. Oh dear.

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Palma del Rio, Spain

Palma del Rio,Spain

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Family Holiday 2008.

A learning experience……

Saturday 2nd August (Please note the month. It matters…)

Flew to Malaga.
Waited over an hour for Hertz hire car to be ready.
Drove to Palma del Rio.
The instructions, map and actual road numbers all completely different. Felt somewhat stressed. Spent about an hour in Palma del Rio trying to find villa.
In the end we phoned the owner and forced Rebecca to use her GCSE spanish and get us directions. (She actually did rather well.)
Met Pepe.

Villa very pretty, lots of dark wood and comfortable furniture. Rather smelly (of poo.)

Extremely hot.

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(This villa can still be booked through: I notice that it now has air conditioning. If your husband ever tells you that ceiling fans are just as good as air conditioning, do not believe him.)

Went to Supermarket in Palma del Rio. Hard to find stuff without speaking spanish.
Bought food and cleaning materials.

Family swam, I cleaned villa (it wasn’t dirty, I just could not work out where the smell was coming from and felt better knowing that I had thoroughly cleaned everything myself.)

So hot. At 9pm it was 40º.

Sunday: Fuse blew at 6am and everyone woke because the fans stopped working.

Late breakfast then swam, read, relaxed.

Evening, had dinner in Rio del Palma. Most restaurants have shut for August (because it is so hot that everyone who lives here goes somewhere else! This area is known as ‘The Frying Pan’ and I know why now…)

Walked through a park and had an ice cream and some nice sangria.

Monday: Shopped, had pizza lunch then swam.

Went into Palma but did not manage to find the Tourist Information Office.

Ate dinner in a restaurant that used to be a monastery. Menu was all in spanish. When we used the dictionary we translated it as ‘road kill’, ‘chatty aubergine’ and ‘gizzard’. Meals pretty awful when they arrived (so maybe those were the correct translations after all.)
Puddings were very nice, so was the sangria.

Way too hot.

Tuesday: We found the Tourist Info but they didn’t speak any English.

Did very little, too hot.

Wednesday: Had a very nice coffee in town and strolled around.

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Drove to Cordoba. Saw mosque turned cathedral, lots of arches. I found it more interesting than the boys did.

Cordoba very pretty, lots of narrow streets selling silver. I bought a silver necklace.

Had hot chocolate and churos.

Walked around a park.

Found a nice tapas cafe.

Walked some more. My feet hurt (probably swelled up in the heat) so bought some leather sandals. Then got a whole new lot of blisters in different places.

Walked to a horrid square. Ate horrid ice creams.

Drove back to Palma. Passed a castle on a hill which was lit up so it looked exactly like it was floating in the sky. Magical.

Thursday. Did nothing, too hot.

Dinner in Ecija, in a museum restaurant (was better than it sounds.)
We were always the only customers in all the restaurants.

Friday: Swam and lazed.

Saturday: Went into town and managed to buy postage stamps without Rebecca helping! Had lemonade and coffee.

Drove to the castle and had a beer. I got locked in the toilet. For ages. Family didn’t notice.Image 3

Sunday: Rebecca traumatised as there was a lizard in her room. Mark not overly sympathetic. I tried to catch it and chased it behind the wardrobe, which didn’t seem to reassure her.

Went into town for a coffee. It’s nice coffee but I swear the price went up a little every day. David tried to order coke instead and the man asked if he wanted milk in it, so gave up and had coffee too.

Went back to villa to find a mouse swimming in the pool.

Went to chinese restaurant in Palma. Nice, lots of food, really tasty.

Drove to Cordoba. Found Salon de Te. Very interesting. Had drinks and tapas.

Drove home via a really cool square – Plaza Cappuchino – full of low lights and candles.

Monday: Drove to Seville.
Followed walk in guide book for a while but extremely hot and children complaining.
Gave up and went back to Palma for dinner.

Tuesday: Lazed around.
Started planning another trip to Seville tomorrow, will be better prepared this time.
I did some washing in the children’s bathroom and noticed sewage bubbling up into the shower tray. This explains the unfortunate smells.

Wednesday: Men came and emptied the septic tank. Stinks.

Drove to Seville.
Left the children at an amusement park with a telephone and lots of instructions about staying together.
We got a taxi into town. I had worn comfortable shoes.
Wandered around Seville, very pretty (though still hot.)
Had coffee.
Had a horse and carriage ride around the city and park – much the best way to see the city without dying of heat exhaustion.

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Tried to buy a tea pot but all the shops were shut..
Collected the children. They had all had fun except for James who was slightly hysterical due to a scary roller coaster that Rebecca had insisted he went on because they weren’t allowed to separate.

Drove back to stinky house.

David made cocktails then gambled with the children. (Sometimes not convinced we would get any parenting prizes.)

Thursday: Coffee in town.
Tried to order a bread and tomato dish that we have seen other people eating. Failed. (Stupid waitress.)
Tried to buy a tea pot. Failed. (Stupid town.)
Read swam, played cards.
Went for a drive (in search of tea pots. Failed.
Dinner in Palma, then watched a Jude Law film in Spanish. Was not great.

Friday: Had coffee at the ice cream parlour in Palma. Nice. David had crushed tomatoes, olives and bread with oil and salt. He was happy.
Drove around, swam and lazed.
Dinner at a nice hotel in Ecija.
Packed. David appeared to be trying to pack the drawers but he assured us he was mending them.

Saturday: Home. Felt cold.

St Croix, U.S. Virgin Island

St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands


1999 Family Diary (While we were living in New Jersey.)

Sunday March 28th: I made pancakes for tea. After their baths, the children went to bed in their travelling clothes. They were so excited!

Monday: Woke 3:30, left house at 4:00 am.
Drove to Newark and parked in long term parking.
Monorail to airport. Checked in 5:30.
Boarded plane, all going well. Taxied to runway, then returned to gate because pilot felt sick!
Delayed 3 hours. Phoned and sorted out connecting flight.
Finally flew to San Juan.Airport felt dirty and I was worried about eating anything there.

   Got a tiny plane to St Croix. No bags. David left me and children in a nearby Pizza Hut while he went to find our cases. Was suddenly aware that I was on my own, in a strange country, with three small children, no money (left purse in car) or phone and a food bill. Hoped David hadn’t done a runner!

   David returned and we drove to Colony Cove (800-828-0746) Our condo nice. It had tiled floors (good for sweeping up sand), a three bedrooms and two bathrooms , a sitting area and a little kitchen. You opened the curtains and there was the beach, right there. Breath taking.

Tuesday: Shopped in local town and had breakfast.
Walked along beach, found a huge conch shell.
Swam in pool and played on beach.

IMG_1833In the afternoon, David smashed up the coconut so the children could see inside. It was old and dry and we had another one which wasn’t ripe, so we couldn’t eat them but it was interesting. Rubbed the milk on our skin (was sure I’d read somewhere it was good for you.)

  We drove along the south coast. Very barren, no palm trees, lots of cactus and rocks. Went to the eastern most tip of the US. Walked down to the beach and played in the sand.

Thank you for reading this extract. The rest of the blog is included in my new book:

The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.

If you enjoyed this, you will love The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.
I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

The US link is here:

The India link is here:

The UK link is here: