I took my daughter to a soft play centre this week and BANG - the expense, the sleepless nights, the shitty nappies were ALL WORTH IT. Because now, thanks to her, I get to go and play in a land of bouncy steps and rope bridges and it’s bloody magic. You can’t go if you are 48 and don’t have a child. If you try things will quickly turn sour pretty.
Back in the 1970s, I did not get to go to soft play areas, partly because my parents were strict old-fashioned types, (like something out of a Roald Dahl book set in an orphanage in Dickensian London) who hated us having fun and partly because soft play areas probably didn’t exist then.
We definitely had bouncy castles though, because I remember staring wistfully at one at Draycott Strawberry Fayre, but my mum wouldn’t let me go on it. I think she thought it looked too dangerous. And admittedly I was a weak and clumsy child who would definitely have broken a limb (and probably not my own) but that’s hardly the point. I finally discovered the disappointing let down (no pun intended) of those palaces of air-filled plastic when I was 21, at a University ball, where I knew my mum couldn’t stop me as she’d never get past security. Which was lucky because I spent most of the time inexpertly snogging a girl I’d just met. Which was quite a challenge in itself. The surface was too bouncy. We kept banging teeth. Maybe that’s what mum had been worried about all along. But now I am in charge, Mother, and I’ve been to a soft play area and there’s nothing you can do about it.
As I am ostensibly an adult, I had to enjoy the experience vicariously through my daughter. We were limited to the less precarious soft play areas as most of the room was off-limits as it was clearly too dangerous for an infant (oh the irony - I guess we do turn into our parents). I threw Phoebe in a little pool of red and yellow balls, and although she looked a bit uncomfortable and like she might cry, it didn’t matter. She was doing it for me. Because I never did it. Probably. That I can remember anyway.
As a kid my playthings were a piece of string and a rotten satsuma from three Christmases before and a 6 foot by 3 foot snooker table and a big box of Subbuteo paraphernalia. And I lived in a cupboard under the stairs, which was annoying for my parents as I had a perfectly good bedroom and this meant they had nowhere to store their Hoover. But I finally managed to escape when a giant peach grew in my garden and I became friends with the over-sized insects that lived inside it… I think. I read a lot of books when I was little and they might have warped my mind. Thank God I own that chocolate factory so I don’t have to work.
Anyway, as my child shifted and sank in the fetid swamp of snot-covered plastic balls, I wondered, Dare I break all human convention and decency and risk the judgement of the other parents and children and jump in too?
As it turned out. No.
But I’m going back alone early in the morning, to have the time of my life. Until some other parents arrive and have me arrested.
And in 48 years time my daughter will claim her life was ruined by her soft-play obsessed father. It’s the circle of life.
Maybe posh flavoured chocolates have gone too far. This week I tried a bar infused with caramel and espresso nibs. I can’t say they didn’t warn me. It was like eating a Rolo fished out of a bin of coffee grounds. What’s next? Butterscotch and concrete? Fudge and cat litter? Or a Ferrero Rocher licked by a dog and then sucked up into a vacuum cleaner? Obviously I’d try them all.