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Parent trap: Long day’s journey into night

Last week, I got breathalysed. They were checking tax and insurance, but when I rolled down my window, the cop took a blast of peach schnapps from the car. Why was this? Because a couple of weeks earlier, we took a long journey in the car with the children.

Ah, long journeys and children. They go together like a wink and a smile. There's no feeling quite like glancing back over your shoulder, three hours into the journey with another hour to go, to see them singing happily or dozing soundly in their seats. There's no feeling quite like it, because it never bloody happens.

Life would be so much easier if you could tranquilise them or send them into hypersleep like Sigourney Weaver in Alien. But you stick three children in a car for four hours and they emerge about as loveable as those same aliens.

Back when we were kids, you just fired everyone into the backseat and taped excess children to the roof. These days, all kids fly executive class. They've individual bucket seats and cup holders and fold-out tables. Even DVD players. None of this has stopped them moaning, however.


'I'm hungry.' 'I've a sore bum.' 'My elbow feels funny.' 'I forgot my feather.' 'See that cow, he hates me.'

Mike and Annie recently learned what bullying is and now throw the accusation back and forth at each other like New York lawyers, suing and counter-suing.

Anyway, Jim, who's 16 months and sits between the two of them, eventually falls asleep. Now you're on borrowed time because when he wakes, he'll be in foul humour and likely to roar for the remainder of the journey, no matter how long it takes. The only way to keep him asleep is to keep driving, so right about now is when the other two start howling about needing to do a wee.

So, you pull into the side of the road and creep around as silently as possible trying to facilitate them. I hover over Mike, who stands there, trousers round his ankles, chatting happily about racoons. "Are you going to do your wee Mike?" I ask him patiently.

"I want peace and quiet." He replies. This is something he's started saying recently when he wants to use the bathroom alone.

You'd think this issue wouldn't arise on the side of the N18, but no. We all have to climb back into the car and watch while he stands there waiting for things to happen and juggernauts bundle by at 80mph. Jim, mercifully, remains asleep. But just when you think you've managed the whole exercise without waking anyone, a white 1995 Fiesta with a broken exhaust roars by and the child jerks awake.


So now you end up stuck behind the same white 1995 Fiesta for the rest of the journey while the child in the back grows ever grumpier. And, as any parent knows, the grumpiness of a toddler is more contagious than chicken pox.

Now you resort to food. Because we are good responsible parents, this is mostly fruit. Jim likes bananas. But he only likes so much banana. When he's had enough, he does the only logical thing you could do with the bit of banana you've left. You squish it into your hair. After about half an hour of this, orange segments, apple cores and half-eaten peaches roll about under the seats.

And because we've neither the time nor the self-respect to go cleaning out the car, this fruit is left alone to ferment.

Hence the smell of peach schnapps and Daddy getting breathalysed.

When the reading came back negative, the cop tapped the front of the little breathalyser yoke, as if it was broken, and eyed me suspiciously. "I never thought I'd have to say this again," I said, "but there's a peach fermenting under the seat."

He gave me a blank stare, so I indicated the three empty seats in the back. "Kids." I said. "They like peaches." Then he gave me two penalty points because my tax was out of date.