We have just returned from the magical world of Center Parcs where we spent our first family holiday by ourselves. We usually go away with family or unsuspecting friends, but this was just us on our own. Interesting. If your children were your friends you’d come home and vow never to holiday with them again. “Holiday” is also a relative term. We’re all bloody knackered. Tantrums, bickering and exhaustion aside, it was great.
We stayed in a lovely lodge in the forest (or what was left of the forest after the construction of 630 lodges and a luxury hotel) and ate pizza and rode bikes and sat by the fire and danced at the disco. We decided that Center Parcs would be a Peppa Pig free zone. If we couldn’t entertain Eve there without telly, we couldn’t do it anywhere. She hankered after the Pink One for the first day or so, but after that she just accepted that PP didn’t happen at CP. Wholesome hols here we come. In the absence of telly Eve began to play a kind of Mallett’s Mallet with herself. Remember Timmy Mallett’s word association game where you mustn’t pause, you mustn’t hesitate? Except without the association. “Custard,” she’d cry. I would try to join in, adhering to the format: “Apple pie”. “Carpet Drums,” she’d throw back. What? “Tractor Vomit. Bin Skin. EGGS.” Follow the format! I almost had to reintroduce Peppa.
At two and a half Eve was too small to do lots of the fun stuff. There is a No Under 3s rule at Center Parcs on many of the activities, which in most cases is fair: it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to let her loose on a segway, and raft building might have proved a bit tricky for a kid who doesn’t even bother with her Duplo. But there was other stuff, like face painting and horse riding, that I’m afraid we just had to lie about. If you can’t have your face painted when you’re two, when can you? And she was perfectly capable of sitting on the back of a ploddy old pony and walking up and down a path twice. Capable, but not willing, as it turned out. We spent the entire duration of her allotted “ride” trying to cajole her onto the back of Sweetie, a fudge-coloured little beast who couldn’t have been more adorable or enticing if she’d been pulling Cinderella’s carriage behind her. Not to Eve, who screamed as though we were asking her to go cage diving with sharks. Anyway, there’s £17 we’ll never see again. Ben, who has never been on a horse in his life and clearly had no understanding of my nostalgia for that soft nose and horse poo smell, was irritated by the whole debacle, pointing out that Center Parcs’ No Under 3s rules “exist for a reason”.
There was of course plenty that Eve could do without using her fake ID. We spent many a long hour at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. I confess once a day was enough for me. Lugging about bags of soggy swimming stuff and getting towels for four dry once in 24 hours was plenty, thanks. Ben disagreed. I think similar conversations about the frequency of swimming trips were going on all across Center Parcs. I overheard this exchange between one couple in the changing rooms. Her: We’re NOT coming back this evening. Once a day is enough. Him: You are WRONG.
After one rather catastrophic event on the giant pirate ship Venture Harbour I didn’t want to return this lifetime never mind that day. Eve was at the top of a slide waiting her turn when she started doing some worrying groin-hoiking with her cozzie. I acted fast, but not as fast as the lifeguard, who had his poo-dar turned to max. He had an earpiece and a walkie talkie and was strutting about like he was in Homeland. I tried to stop her (by squawking and waving my arms) but she’d done her queuing, she’d waited patiently for the kid in front of her to vacate the pool below, and she was damn well going to get her slide. And slide she did, her swim nappy releasing its heinous contents as she went. She landed in the shallows, thrilled and oblivious, surrounded by floating poo flakes and other gruesome bottom debris. I wanted the pirate ship to sink without trace, with me on it. They work fast, those poo-guards. Whistles were blown, alarms sounded, horns tooted, and the cry of “Everyone OFF Venture Harbour” rang out across the Paradise. Emergency evacuation procedures were well under way as I scooped up the little culprit in my free arm and scuttled off to the changing rooms, head bent low. Oh, the shame. Ben of course was absent throughout. He was busy waiting his turn on the Big Slides.
As we were staying in (what was left of) the forest we thought we ought to do some Nature while we were there and booked Eve onto Tots Go Wild. With hindsight I think my expectations may have been a little high: I was hoping for a sort of kids’ version of The Island with Bear Grylls. I thought we’d go exploring and have an adventure with a survival expert, or a nature lover, or at least someone who could tell a squirrel from a hedgehog. What we got was Craig from Balance Bikes. And I’m not sure he was an expert in anything much.
We’d met Craig the previous day when he attempted to take Eve through the finer details of the Cycling Proficiency before letting her even get on the bike. It turns out she’s not big on theory, and she doesn’t respond well to instruction. Their relationship broke down completely when she rode her balance bike right out of the hall and away down the path. Anyway, they both looked equally disappointed to be reunited. I think Craig would rather have been put on Loo Cleaning than Nature that morning. The great outdoors really wasn’t his bag. On lifting a big log off the forest floor to discover the exciting creatures lurking beneath, he failed to spot a giant toad sitting right there in front of us. He was informed of its whereabouts by a helpful three-year-old named William.
Eve’s interest peaked when the animal masks were handed out. There were foxes, hedgehogs, owls, rabbits and mice, all skulking about in the trees. For some reason it wasn’t cute. It was creepy. If anyone saw the Channel 4 documentary Dogging Tales a couple of years ago, you’ll get the idea.
We did loads of other fun stuff, like painting a ceramic Elsa, which was treasured and taken everywhere until she fell from a moving bicycle at high speed and smashed into tiny pieces. Eve attempted an act of true love by the roadside, but even that couldn’t save her. We went bowling and Eve spent the entire time climbing in and out of the cubbyholes where you leave your shoes, while Ben and I pretended that it was 1995 and we were enjoying ourselves.
When asked what her favourite part of the holiday had been, Eve replied, “the ramp, the RAMP!” A concrete ramp, in the sports hall, which she ran about on for an hour while we drank our Starbucks and planned more Actual Fun. “And the purple dinosaur,” she added. This was a piece of plastic tat that she found under a bench and looked like it had come out of a cracker, many Christmases ago. Great. I’m so pleased she enjoyed all the wonders Center Parcs had to offer. Next time we’re buying her a Kinder Egg and taking her to a multi-storey car park.