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How long before Car Wars erupt?

WE'RE taking a family holiday soon. A proper one. Where we all go away. Together. Abroad. Me, my wife, the Lodger, the two middle ones along with all their hair, and mini-Rihanna – and the full potential horror of all this cannot be overstated.

"I'm renting a car when we get there," announces my wife.

"Oh," I say, meaning 'uh oh' because, fact is, we're simply not at our best as a family when strapped into seats just inches from one another, knees bunched and bodies tensed into knots lest they touch even slightly, then confined to a metal box the size of a generous toilet cubicle for . . . well, for ever and ever.



When they were just a little younger, God love them, our cherished progeny would cunningly construct peace walls from baggage and blankets, preventing all-out war from breaking out, for a while at least.

But, sooner or later, someone's knee or elbow would stray into enemy territory and the whole situation would go nuclear in a matter of minutes, forcing the driver, invariably me, to peel his fingernails off the steering wheel, calmly indicate, pull over safely and begin screaming.

Which is all rather embarrassing really, I'll be first to admit, a grown man losing it like that, spittle flying as the family cowers, rear left passenger door finally opening slowly and one sullen teen or other being forced to stand at the side of the road as the car takes off for another 10 yards, jerks to a halt, rear left passenger door opening again and said teen allowed back in with a warning, on strict probation.

And like this, slowly and painfully, we'd work our way around the green outside our house and, if the stars were in the correct alignment, perhaps even manage eventually to pull out on to the main road.

This is what is going through my mind as I croak, through a death-mask grimace: "How big a car?"

Like it matters how big the car is. It could be an entire tour bus for the six of us, travelling only the length of a parking lot, and our mob would still manage to devise new and ever more cruel and unusual ways to wage psychological warfare upon one another.

Honestly, the CIA could take a leaf or two from behind the fogged windows of our family conveyance.

If ever they wished to truly pry open the mind of the most otherwise impervious Guantanamo Bay inmate, all they'd need do is make him the driver of a 12-year-old navy-blue five-door Alhambra carrying three hormonal and highly territorial teens and one sociopathic 11-year-old girl.

If the UN treaty on human rights even permitted it to start with, which I sincerely doubt, before they could so much as fetch a pencil the poor soul would have given up everything he knows – the illustrated version.

"Oh, I should think we should all be able to squeeze into something fairly cheap," says my wife. Truth is, we very well could. I've seen the way our boys can fold up their 9ft limbs like collapsible measuring sticks until they look like two sets of toes poking out of a hairstyle when they want to immerse themselves into a beanbag in front of the PlayStation for 14 hours.

Unfortunately, leg room or lack of it is not the issue. It's how far we'll manage to get without losing all our faculties (forget about our dignity, we gave that up years ago), that's what is at stake.

"Perhaps we could all just rent bicycles instead," I suggest.

My wife lobs me a sideways glance. "It's hundreds of miles from the airport to where we're going," she says.

"Still," I say. "Think positive. If we pedal hard enough, they mightn't be able to catch up."

"It's nice countryside where we're going," she says, ignoring me.

"I think it'll be lovely to drive around."

Yes, because the scenery matters when your offspring are clawing each other's faces off.

I've only recently managed to finally begin forgetting the finer details of a driving holiday in the States almost four years ago.

"LOOK AT THE F***ING SCENERY!" is probably the polite version of what I shrieked in one of my less shining moments as a caring, respectable parent.

But perhaps this time WILL be different.

Maybe it WILL be 'nice' and 'lovely' and other words like that, words you might associate with butterflies and smiley faces, unlike words such as 'murder' or 'maiming'.

Perhaps it will be like the movie National Lampoon's Vacation – the rib-tickling bits, you know, before Chevy Chase loses his rag and roars at his bewildered youngsters: "We're all gonna have so much fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles!"

Who am I kidding?

It'll be a year before any of us is talking to each other again once we get back.

"I think I need a glass of wine," I manage weakly. "You?"



She glares at me. "It's eight in the morning," she says.

"You're right," I tell her. "If we're dropping the kids to school, we should probably only have the one."

"Very funny," she says, but we both look the same way at the car keys sitting on the hall stand, like it's a big spider squatting there staring back at us.

"Kids," we both find ourselves yelling at the same time, possibly because it's by no means the first time that our inner dialogue has brought us to this moment: "You're all walking today."