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Firefighter Mat Riley knows a fool-proof way to win Sardines and Hide-and-Seek...

Every year I go on holiday with my wife and her family. There’s usually seven of us and, until last year when we had our first baby (Ru), it was an adult-only week in the European sun.

Unlike my family, Alex’s family are big on games. They can find competition in anything, leagues are drawn up on Day One, and the hours are whiled away with knockout rounds, heats and matches.

I’ve never really played team sports, I can never remember any of the rules of card games and generally I’m not bothered if I win. This sort of attitude doesn't usually see me place in medal position.

Then about five years ago my fortunes changed when the family introduced the Victorian parlour game Sardines.

It’s like Hide-and-Seek but only one person hides and the others seek separately and, when the original hider is found, you have to join them in whatever space they chose to crouch until the others find you, and one-by-one, join the hidden fray. It can get quite tight - hence the name.

To add an element of jeopardy to the whole proceedings, the house has to be pitch black - night must have fallen and all lights extinguished. Many shins are knocked and curse words hurled into the humid air. But not me, not my shins - I am a trained seeker. I am a firefighter, and my eight years of training boils down to this - coming first in a game of Sardines with the in-laws.

Our first-ever game saw my mother in-law run off to hide. As the rest of the family fumbled and stumbled about blindly into the dark I silently slipped into firefighter mode. I swept each room, each wardrobe, each crevice top-to-bottom with the back of my hand. The best way to describe the technique is to imagine you are repainting every room with the back of your hand - you can’t miss an inch. You're also revarnishing the floor with your foot, sweeping back and forth across every plank - there is no chance you'll miss an in-law or small child if you adopt the method.

I found myself spooning my soon to be mother in-law in the stuffy space - both too competitive to call time on our awkward position.

It didn't take me long to discover her crouched in the corner of a cupboard. It was a roomy cupboard for one but I am 6ft 4ins and incapable of folding myself. Things got uncomfortably intimate quickly. I found myself spooning my soon to be mother in-law in the stuffy space - both too competitive to call time on our awkward position. The incompetence of my competitors meant we were in there for what felt like several sweaty hours. I think at one point Alex started to cry, so convinced was she that something awful had befallen us both, but we did not break. The points were ours for the taking and take them we did.

Since having my son, holidays have changed somewhat but the level of competition remains the same. Those taking a rest from a match automatically become Ru watcher so someone can be relieved to continue their push for points. If anything, my league positioning has improved as my beer intake has inevitably plummeted in parenthood. Ru is now often charged with throwing the penny in the pool which the adults have to race to find without goggles - 10 points up for grabs in case you're wondering. I wouldn't call it cheating, but Alex and I both know he only throws with his left hand, badly, so the penny is probably about a foot from pool side.

No longer do I linger at the bottom of the family league table, I have found my forte, Dive-for-the-Penny and Sardines.

:: Mat and Alex have a baking and family vlog on their YouTube channel The Life of Riley