The Blog

Why Going On Holiday With Your Family Takes A Lot Of Practise

When I found my father using a kitchen tray with an historic local map printed on it to plan the route of our next expedition rather than his car's GPS system, I gave up any illusion that this family holiday could be categorised as slick.

When I found my father using a kitchen tray with an historic local map printed on it to plan the route of our next expedition rather than his car's GPS system, I gave up any illusion that our holiday could be categorised as slick.

I had given my nuclear family two weeks to bond with my four-month-old daughter, while my husband and I visited from our home in Shanghai. And in a bid to extract optimal nostalgic value from 14 days of togetherness had hired a beautiful house in the countryside for a fortnight.

But this house of fun consisting of grandparents, my sister and her fiancé plus their brand-new baby, was proving more difficult to manage than first anticipated.

By day three it became clear that many of us were establishing stronger relationships with the local Waitrose cashiers than each other.

To set the scene, Tickeridge Farm is the kind of place where you should, no question, have a blissful rural holiday. Every window offers a view containing at least three of the following: cows, apple trees, fields, horses, cows, fluffy clouds, a croquet set, flowers, cows.

If you can find a reason to walk out of this picture-perfect property the only person you will meet is the local farmer who takes his cows somewhere twice each day, blocking the road and giving you a chance to breathe in the landscape. For about 20 minutes.

Otherwise, it's just you, a moat of fields, and the Malvern Hills giving the horizon an artistic finish.

So the property wasn't the problem - just the people inside the farmhouse. None of us had been given any instructions on how this new family unit was supposed to operate.

From my desk in Shanghai, I'd imagined the set-up with fondness.

We'd indulge in long brunches made with gorgeous local ingredients, enjoy long walks across the Malvern Hills and spend evenings lazily drinking wine, giggling and feeling happily smug at mine and my sister's prodigious child-creation skills.

But the arrival of two babies had irrevocably changed our family dynamic.

There was no longer a clear leader (my mother). Instead we were six adults, five whom were sleep deprived (my father sleeps through anything) all at the mercy of two tiny dictators.

Whatever plans we'd managed to scrape together over a bottle of Malbac surrounded by baby monitors of an evening, were destroyed by default as soon as dawn came.

Over breakfast we shared tales of crying, teething, sleep regression, temperatures, and broken dads whose arm muscles had finally collapsed under the strain of carrying children.

We poured our hearts out until no one could remember what we'd planned to do that day. Even if we had the strength to stand.

In our disturbed haze of parenting we made rookie domestic errors.

We'd regularly go to Waitrose three times in one day because we didn't have a centralised list. Or find ourselves sheltering from the rain in a bus shelter holding two crying babes miles from home, after a country walk had gone awry. Or find ourselves mopping up a flood of water we managed to spill across the kitchen after the cafetiere mysteriously exploded.

Indeed our main skill as a family was to transform any previously straightforward domestic activity into a web of complication.

Yet, as confusing as the days became, we took heart from one point.

We weren't the least capable guests that had ever attempted a country holiday at Tickeridge Farm.

From the moment we arrived there were hints that this house had stories to tell.

On one of the white-painted bathroom doors was a splash of something that looked like blood. Next to the barbecue, six large paving stones were clearly brand new. And the garage door had been bludgeoned by something heavy.

One morning my brother-in-law was sitting in his Prius with a copy of that day's Guardian waiting for the cow parade to go past, when he got chatting to the local farmer about the farm's previous guests.

"The police came. These men, they destroyed everything," said the old man in wellies mysteriously.

My brother-in-law was intrigued. But all-too-soon the cows were gone along with the farmer.

"We could ask the caretaker, Mr White?" my mother suggested sensibly as we all discussed ways to find out more. "Also it would also be useful to know how to unblock that toilet, turn on the heating and sort the recycling."

Perfect. On the auspices of domestic management we would be closer to the truth.

Mr White did not disappoint.

Two months ago, a group of young men booked this 14th century farmhouse for a four-day break. On the final day the neighbours called the police because they spotted a fire in the garden, with three-metre high flames.

When the officers arrived they found all the men lying outside on mattresses taken from the bedrooms, sound asleep. It was the last day of their vacation and well past check-out time.

When Mr White was quite sure the young men posed no danger to himself, he went to inspect the house. And was a little surprised by what he found.

Over the course of their stay at Tickeridge the young men had:

:: Propped a bench up against the farmhouse and raced up and down the roof dislodging many tiles.

:: Had a bonfire on the garden steps

:: Smashed the garage window because they couldn't find a key

:: Tried to gain access to garage by hitting the door with an axe.

:: Covered the kitchen ceiling in fingerprints so that it needed repainting

:: Created so much mess all the carpets needed replacing

:: Took all the bedroom's mattresses outside to sleep on

Given that the worst thing we'd done was put the plastic in with the bottles, perhaps we weren't such a useless bunch.

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