The Journal of Lynton Charles, Chancellor of the Duchy of Durham

Saturday With our proper holiday postponed, the family Charles heads westwards in its old Volvo, travelling (as the politics of the moment prescribes) towards the foot-and-mouth ravaged lands of Devon. We are doing our very own bit for the hard-pressed tourist industry of England, and we resent every minute of it. I mean, it's not as though thousands of farmers and small hoteliers flocked to Swansea or Brixton in the early Eighties saying to themselves: "Gosh, we'd better do something to offset the economic effects of the industrial clear-out brought about by the Conservative government we so zealously supported at the last election." No, they bought boats with their EU subsidies and nodded along when Tebbit told people to get on their bikes.

Cheryl professes to be thrilled that we are going on holiday where "real people" take their vacations. Only bloated plutocrats and globalising running-dogs stay in Italian villas. She wishes to pitch her tent on the workers' campsite, and kiss goodbye to fresh pasta, pesto, pomodoro, parmesan and pecorino. Local not global - that's the motto of Red-Green Vagina and the activist alliance. But local is tolerable when you're Italian, not when you are British. Milk stout instead of Barolo? Mushy peas instead of risotto? P G Tips instead of Lavazza? Lord, give me strength to endure.

Local also means that, instead of getting an official driver to drop us off at Heathrow, we get stuck in a 20-mile tailback on the M5. And another just outside Exeter. And another just on the other side of Exeter. Or we stop for urination breaks at motorway service stations full of people in shell suits, people in replica football shirts and people who smoke. Everything, in short, that I go to Tuscany to avoid.

And when, finally, you come in sight of The Black Boar at Poovey Tracey, late, hot and bothered, you find that the chef has gone home, there is no room service, the nearest restaurant is a Little Chef and they've been having problems with the water heating, the plumber's been called out, but you know how it is. You know how it is, all right. Still, they may just be able to rustle us up a sandwich. Cheese and pickle, or cheese and no pickle. Take your choice.

Sunday Yesterday, when we travelled, it was hot and sunny. Very hot. Especially in the pre- and post-Exeter jams. But today it is raining. Not little specks from a warm, grey sky which you can just about ignore if you want to. No, it is tipping down. The water outside the windows is like a curtain.

We share semi-whispered complaints about the weather with the other breakfasters, and try to plan an itinerary that stands any chance at all of being accepted by our 13-year-old twins. Cheryl wants to visit an experimental farm where they recycle everything, including their own bodily waste. The twins would prefer a trip to an open-air water park where you can swim and slide down things. After all, they reason, what does it matter if it rains in a place like that? You're wet already, right? Right.

Monday It is, if anything, even wetter than yesterday. Roy seems to have flu. Good. I volunteer to stay in the hotel with him, while Cheryl takes a protesting Neil off to see how shit can be made to be useful.

They arrive back at lunchtime. Five more days of this stretch ahead, and the weather forecast is for further rain. Over baked potato with chilli filling, Cheryl cracks. "Is there no urgent government business," she asks, "that we need to get back for?" She nips to the loo, and ten minutes later my pager goes off in the dining room.

It seems that something has come up. Dommage.

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The diva of Downing Street