As I crept through the bushes, there was a blood-curdling roar. Then a frenzied, feral child, with a remarkable resemblance to my four-year-old son Jake, screamed, ‘There he is. Get him!’ We were playing a game called 40 40 with a group of friends and families at a vast rented pile of a house just outside London. Split into two teams, I was with a group of parent ‘runners’, who were supposed to be sneaking up to an enemy base to tag a gate and shout ‘40 40 in’. But a platoon of our children had other ideas.
The thought of beating and humiliating mums and dads transformed little angels into warriors organised like a Roman legion. Eight-year-olds were despatching five-year-olds to flank and flush us out. Then Jake and another youngster suddenly came hurtling through undergrowth directly towards me like hounds on a scent. I’m 6ft 3in with a reasonable turn of speed. But my height meant I had to clamber over fallen trees in the woods, while littler ones rocketed under the branches. I swear they actually slowed down at some points just to prolong the chase and my suffering.
Cackling away, they were almost giddy with excitement. I think they would have played for days. We had teenagers with us who got so carried away, they went missing in the woods. If they’d taken camouflage paint, we’d never have found them. Eventually, we had to bribe and blackmail them all back into the house fora round of communal feeding.
The whole weekend was a rare joy, a chance to spend time with a group of friends in a huge house. Ideally, you want to do it somewhere warm and sunny, but it’s not a bad idea to test everyone out first closer to home. Everybody needs to get along, of course, but everyone also needs to pull their weight. Some friends bristle at the idea of group self-catering. ‘How on earth would you organise the food?’ said one. ‘Never mind the cleaning, and, oh my God, the washing-up!’
It works just fine of course, because slackers don’t get repeat invites. And you have a rota, so a couple cook a meal one day, and a couple more clear everything away. A group holiday doesn’t have to mean the catering is crisps and beans. On our holiday there were more sumptuous dishes and cakes than even a battalion could have scoffed.
Everyone was keen for the weekend to tick along nicely, so there were too many volunteers, and pots and pans didn’t linger by the sink for more than a few minutes before someone donned Marigolds. Scouring a tureen suddenly becomes a jolly way to spend a Sunday morning when there’s a glass of bubbly on the windowsill and half a dozen other parents in the kitchen cracking jokes.
I applied elbow grease to the army catering set and watched through the window as the children played footie and chase in the grounds. Jake cried when we had to leave. He can still recount each moment of the 40 40 chase, and our next clan weekend is inked in the diary.
Read more of Simon’s insights into the joys of family travel: familytraveller.com/simon-reeve
TV adventurer and author Simon Reeve has presented multiple award-winning BBC TV series, including Australia, Sacred Rivers, Tropic of Cancer and Indian Ocean. His latest series is Caribbean.