IT was that time of year again when she escapes on her annual get-away-from-it-all break with the other mums in our village and us dads are left to fend for ourselves.

Off they went to Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest for a whole weekend of wine guzzling and beauty treatments, leaving on Friday and not getting back until Monday.

As usual, the notes were taped to the walls, telling me what to feed the kids, how to dress them, and where they had to be for various activities.

On top of that, I had my parents ringing every hour, asking if I was coping.

Coping? I'm a 41-year-old experienced dad and I was coping admirably, thank you very much.

It was going like clockwork until Saturday afternoon when the wall instructions told me Hannah had ballet practice at 1pm.

"Dad, I need a bun," she said in a panic.

"You've just had your lunch," I replied.

"No, in my hair - it has to be in a bun or Miss Tiffany gets cross."

Bacon buns I can do. Sausage buns? Cheese buns? No problem. Hair buns - they're a mystery.

"I don't know how to," I said, pathetically.

She looked at me as if I was something the cat had dragged in. It wasn't my fault. No one ever taught me how to do a bun.

In the end, she managed it herself - sulkily. It looked fine but it wasn't as good as Mum would have done. I felt a failure, especially when Mum phoned later and Hannah couldn't wait to spill the beans.

It was a setback but I made up the lost ground by taking them to the pictures, followed by McDonald's for tea. Fries - and buns - all round, my reputation was duly restored.

So there I was on Monday morning, looking forward to Mum's return, knowing I'd coped - apart from the bun incident. I'd taken the day off and a headline caught my eye in the paper: DUSTING GETS MEN LUSTING.

It was all about a survey with some remarkable conclusions: Nine out of ten women who get more than two hours' help with the housework from their partners enjoy good sex lives. Three out of four men who spend that long on the chores last up to 40 minutes when making love. In summary, blokes who do their share around the house are more appreciated between the sheets.

On the page opposite was an article previewing a documentary about Rod Stewart's long list of lovers. I imagined all the housework Rod must have done in his time.

It was all the encouragement I needed. I had three hours before she was due home and I went round that house like a whirlwind. Somehow, I couldn't get the image out of my head of Rod Stewart, wearing a pinny, brandishing a feather duster, and singing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy."

Nevertheless, the end result was irresistible. The house was spotless: washing up done, kitchen floor mopped, carpets hoovered, and, most importantly, beds made. Not only had I coped, but the polish had been applied to an outstanding performance.

As a finishing touch, I even lit the fire for a particularly cosy homecoming.

She arrived at 2pm. Perfect - we didn't have to pick the kids up from school for over an hour. Plenty of time.

Wait 'til she sees how tidy the house looks, I thought - she'll be dragging me up those stairs like a woman possessed.

We hugged on the doorstep. She said she'd missed me. I said I'd missed her. The signs were looking good.

"So you couldn't manage Hannah's bun then?" she said, breaking free.

She unpacked the car. She made a sandwich and a cup of tea. She chatted about what a great time she'd had. Then we went to pick up the kids.

"The house looks nice," she said. But that was all. The fire had gone out.

She's been back a week now - and, let's just say, I haven't felt the need to get the Dyson out.


BOURNMOOR Ladies Club - off the A1 at the Chester-le-Street turn and head towards Sunderland - was the latest back of beyond destination for the roadshow.

AUDREY Brown recalled how Kirsty, aged three, had never seen her dad without a beard... until the day her mum decided she'd had enough of his hairy chin and told him to shave it off.

As he emerged clean-shaven from the bathroom, Kirsty stared at him and said: "Did you used to be my Dad?"

FELLOW member Hilda Edger was going round a garden centre, looking at the conservatories.

As she admired the first conservatory, she picked up the price label from a settee for a closer look. In the second conservatory, she again picked up the price label from a settee for closer examination. In the third, the settee price label was duly lifted up again.

Grandson Steven, aged four, looked at her and said: "Why do they keep leaving clues for you, Gran?"

Published: 20/11/2003