Spectator: Lucy Baring on family holidays

Our photograph albums will feed collective False Memory Syndrome (FMS) with a vengeance. My children will, for instance, believe that our entire life has been led on a beach. There is no record of the school run, the unsuccessful search for breakfast, the wall-to-wall episodes of Friends, the cleaning out of guinea pigs or any of the other elements that make up our real life. Owing to the ad hoc chronology that has taken place out of desperation to get the pic-tures stuck in after many lapsed years, they may, in fact, wonder who is the eldest and how many siblings they had at any given time. Christmas didn’t come every year, we didn’t have a house and the sun always shines in Scot-land. On the other hand, you don’t need albums for FMS.

We’ve just spent the weekend with some friends with whom we’ve shared many a holiday and, as the next one is approaching, we looked back: to the one in Italy when it rained all the time, the house was creepy and haunted and nobody had any sleep because all the children cried at night. To the one when the two of us who didn’t know how to ski spent all day drinking hot chocolate, feeling sick, idly wondering whether to take up langlaufing. And to the barge holiday, when four families headed for the Leeds and Liver-pool Canal in the year when both sides of the M1 were under water and the man who owned the barges fell into the canal before he’d handed over the keys. This, he spluttered, had never happened to him before.

That set the tone really. Our ragged convoy bumped along, ricocheting off banks and, on occasion, other barges, with bicycles piled high and too many children to count. Which is why we left Alfie behind at the start and nobody noticed. We’d seriously under-catered, believing we’d find plenty of shops along the route, but, no matter how far we travelled, each evening was spent walking/cycling to the same Co-op in the same town, which became disheartening. With four barges come four captains and slim chance of any agreement being reached about where to moor.

If we found a stretch of bank on which we could all fit, one family objected to the pylons, so we had to move on. There were houses near another spot. Move. There was a bridge off which people were hurling beer bottles. Definitely move. Consensus came with exhaust-ion and, after separate suppers (a strict rule), we lined up on the towpath on unstable chairs passing the conversation along like Chinese whispers.

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Most evenings, I lay in my bunk wondering how to eke out the few dry clothes we had left, whether the loo would work and if I could go home. Tensions peaked midweek when Captain No 1 (I don’t use the term lightly) boarded, uninvited, the vessel of Captain No 4 (who, by this point, had such a bad back, he could barely stand). Captain No 1 had decided that, if we were to pass through the canal staircase of the Bingley Five-Rise (our destination), he’d give Captain No 4 a lie-in and take over. Unfortunately, this wasn’t taken as an act of kindness by Captain No 4’s wife, but rather as an act of aggression and an argument ensued, which left one of them on the bank as the chaotic troop chugged away. We picked her up on the way back.

But with reminscence comes FMS: the long walk in the driving rain that meant we had to hitch a lift back with the post van because every child had given up took on a Postman Pat-like quality; the terrifying bike ride on what turned out to be a heaving dual carriageway became an amusing adventure; the endless lock keys dropped in the canal produced ripples of laughter instead of sighs of exasperation. And we all remembered the last evening, when the sun shone and the child-ren ran through waist-high grass down sloping banks and it was agreed that that was one of the best holidays we’d ever been on. It’s also, as it happens, the only day on which we took photos.

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