Sunday 4th February 2007
I went to a playcentre in Richmond today. With a friend who has a child, I'm not strange. It promises "Endless play in our multi-level soft structure -
featuring ball pits, slides, tunnels mazes, obstacles courses and much more" - though I question their use of the word "endless", especially as the website also mentions the opening hours. I think even were the place open 24 hours that most kids would be bored with it within two hours maximum. Not that it's not good. It's just not endlessly good.
Most of my friends have kids now, but I have missed out on all this and it was all like entering another world. Because although the place is designed for fun, there is a strange whiff of tragedy about the place. As the kids jump up and down on the equipment, the parents sit on plastic chairs, drinking coffee, reading the paper, looking tired. The paly equipment is colourful and the kids have fun, but juxtaposed with the greyness of he adult world and the sheer hard work of bringing up children it becomes oddly depressing. Not to the children, they have a quite good time for up to two hours, but their carefree stupidity juxtaposes with the world-worn drudgery of their parents.
But this might just be from my point of view. I think I have never been that comfortable with being a grown up and so feel out of place on the sensible grey side of the room, still feeling in my heart that I should be romping on the play stuff. And this was possibly confirmed when I went in to help my friend's son climb up on a shelf that was too high for him, I got to have a little go climbing around and suddenly the eggy feeling of gloom lifted. It wasn't endless fun, but it was pretty good. Maybe I shouldn't be trying to be 21 until I am 40, maybe two and a half is more my level.
Kids aren't so different than comedians. The funniest part of the day was when a small girl climbing on one part of the child gym decided she was going to take off all her clothes. Why not? Clothes are stupid and what better way to satirise the strictures of society than by stripping off naked. But her parents were quickly up there to dress her again and make her conform.
My favourite thing about the place though was that there were various notices and rules on the wall, but the one piece of information that was up there more than any other was one that warned that raisins were not allowed to be brought into the play centre. I don't know if this says more about Richmond than anything else, but it seemed oddly specific. After all there must be many unpleasant and sticky foodstuffs that could mess up the equipment, so why are raisins particularly singled out. There were signs saying that no outside foods could be brought into the area, which presumably includes raisins, but the parents of Richmond must be trying to stuff their kids with healty raisins and it's turned into an epidemic.
Anyway at the end of it all it had been a distracting couple of hours and I was left wondering if it might be profitable to open an adult version of such a place, where kids weren't allowed. I am sure there are certain places where businessmen can go to be treated like babies, but I am not talking about this in a perverse way (and if anyone took off their clothes it would only be in an innocent satirical fashion). It's just really good fun to go back and do these childish things and oddly refreshing. Everything would need to be bigger and stronger and there would have to be bouncy castles there too (I don't think I got to go on one of these in my whole childhood - I hate my over protective puritanical parents). Plus in the adult version you could eat raisins if you wanted.
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