Soft play

ball pool

So prepared and eager to tumble were we, that we arrived a full 30 minutes early to the party. The girl on reception was still preparing her clipboard and Bic pen, and seemed genuinely shocked that common attendees had arrived ahead of the guests of honour.

Fair play to her.

What kind of oddballs arrive 30 minutes early to a children’s party early on a Sunday morning? Not the cool kids that’s for sure. I was unhappy about this and openly bemoaned that I could’ve had an extra half an hour at home, bemoaning having to go to a children’s birthday party on a Sunday morning. What a  waste. So it is fair to say that I wasn’t paying attention….

When somebody shouts ‘shoes off everybody‘ a normal person takes their shoes off don’t they? Apparently not. It seems in some establishments, only the children take their shoes off. Nobody said as much, I surmised this by the look on the face of the teenage girl that I had just handed my shoes to.  She took them though bless her. My wife apologised on my behalf and took them back.  

It seems I have reached that point in my life now where I am fair game to be openly shushed in public by my wife, lest I upset a teenager with a clipboard. She said shoes off! I explained as I was ushered through two tiny saloon doors into a deserted soft-play area whilst trying to put my shoes back on.

This would not be the most embarrassing thing that happened today.

On the other side of the saloon doors, my children immediately insisted that I go with them into the maze of ‘softness’ and up, up, up to the BIG slide. I sighed, took off my coat, ordered a coffee and followed them in. As we ran down the first soft-play corridor, avoiding the swinging pendulums of brightly coloured foam a girl’s voice sounded out over a crackly public address system:


I walked back out and took my shoes off. The soft play walk of shame. Berated by an unseen voice only a few years older than my daughter no doubt. My wife could see I was angry. I do not like being told what to do at the best of times. Being told to take my shoes off and then put them back on again, and then take them off again, in under 5 minutes by someone studying for their GCSE’s is not my cup of tea.

This would not be the most embarrassing thing that happened today……

Soft-play by-the-way

On social occasions such as these, my wife generally commences her charm offensive around two weeks prior to the event. She has learnt over the course of our marriage that I DO NOT WANT TO GO – wherever it is she is talking about going, irrespective of how long it will last; who is going to be there; or what other people’s social expectations of me are.

It generally starts with ‘Mark’s going‘. Mark is the husband of one of my wife’s best friends, the resulting factor being that Mark is now my friend. Mark is a nice guy don’t get me wrong, we have been on holiday together with our families and very nice it was too.  (Apart from the time when they conceived their third child but meters from my inflatable). We plan to go again. (I intend to take a bucket of water next time). Animals.

But in some instances, not even the promise of Mark can mitigate circumstances. Soft-play on a Sunday morning is one of those instances. But Mark was just her opener. There would be more to come….

Inside soft-play

There is nothing quite like being on your hands and knees, in a small blue tube designed to house children, with a man’s bottom close to your face and a woman’s face close to your bottom. A man and woman that you have not been formally introduced to. It hones the senses. He was wearing green checked boxer shorts. I was wearing a grimace.

Kneeling there inside that tube I wondered what the ******* hold up was? Two blokes in a tiny blue cylinder shouting the names of children that they couldn’t see. I was not in my happy place. Interestingly though, the woman behind me was silent. She wasn’t calling anybody’s name. This unnerved me. Just what was she doing back there? WHAT WAS THE ********HOLD UP?

I attempted to break the tension by announcing that were we to find ourselves trapped in there for an extended period, they had my permission to eat me. Nobody said a word. We all just knelt there in silence. Miserable bastards. I’ve changed my mind, I said. Still silence. I decided to be quiet…

Soft-play, remember!

Wifey’s next tactic is being really nice to me. Little moments of kindness in the week leading up to it, closely followed by a gentle reminder of the event; and Mark.  A delicious home made treat with a ‘you haven’t forgotten have you‘ whilst I am still chewing and a ‘Mark wants to know if you’re going‘ before I’ve swallowed.

I am not convinced that Mark actually wants to know if I am going? I suspect our wives of trickery. I often wonder if they play us off against each other in an evil bid to get their own way. I wonder if Mark’s wife makes him tasty treats…..?

On your head son!

There was quite a nice period of time mid-morning when my wife and I played soft-play football with the kids. I’d never seen the football pitch before. It’s right at the back, behind and under the big slide. Ssshhhh.

Wifey was in goal and the kids and I tackled each other for two cheap, brightly coloured footballs. The kind that travel. For a moment all was well with the world. Against a 4-year old and a 2-year old, it turns out I am quite a good footballer, with some pretty fly moves. Sadly my signature move turned out to be a volley that smashed my son on the forehead and put him on his back.

There was an eerie silence….. and then the screaming began. Wifey and I tried to comfort him while trying not to laugh. My daughter would spend the rest of the day telling complete strangers that ‘Dadda kick Brubba in the face’.  I made a mental note to ground her when she was old enough to go out. 32?

This would not be the most embarrassing thing that happened today.

Whilst waiting for the food part of the party to start upstairs, tired adults stood and drank coffee, completely oblivious to where their children were. In there was the accepted response. In there being bashed and trodden by bigger children, probably desperately fighting for their little lives. Kids.

And then the most embarrassing thing that would happen today happened. Mark was forced to go into the ladies toilet to retrieve his 21 month old daughter, who was, or so he was informed by three teenage girls, drinking from the toilet.

Now I had to ask him to repeat this when he told me. She’s not tall enough to get her head down the pan? It transpires she was leaning in and splashing the water onto her face. (!) It seemed as if she’d just baptised herself. She’d performed her very own naming ceremony witnessed by three appalled teenagers in the lavatory at a mediocre soft-play venue. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t brought a gift. A silver toothbrush perchance.

The rest of the event was much of  a muchness. The food came and went, the candles were extinguished, children screamed…..and then the monkey came. The venue’s mascot.

I was frowned upon by Wifey when the lady on the microphone questioned whether anyone would like to give the monkey a cuddle and I retorted that I’d like to give him a dry clean as he looked FILTHY.

As young children, including my own, danced in front of a gyrating monkey, I pondered who was inside the costume?  I dreaded to think. Looking at the outside of the costume, I suspected that Forensics would have a field day. A stain for every occasion…..

I finally agreed to attend the party yesterday afternoon after being presented with a brand new bottle of single malt whiskey ‘just because I love you’. HOW MEAN IS THAT? I could hardly refuse  now could I? Well played Wifey, well played. It seems in the 10 years we have been together you have learned a few things. I salute you.

I still moaned about going. I’m not a machine…..

Mark told me a lovely story about the last time he was there, when he took his son to a party ALL BY HIMSELF; a party where he DIDN’T KNOW ANY OF THE OTHER PEOPLE THERE. I am in awe of him, he is a better man than me, despite allowing his children to drink from public toilets.

Kicker is though, in the downstairs bit (the hour of soft play) before the upstairs bit (the hour of the dirty monkey) Mark expelled much energy talking to and being charming with all the other parents, only to be informed by his son as they settled down at the table an hour later, that they were at the wrong party. Mark had spent the preceding hour befriending the wrong parents. The party they were supposed to attend was on the other side. He had to get up, climb down the stairs, walk across soft play, and climb back up the other side and start all over again.  I’d have gone home.

I like Mark.

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  1. Judith Fairclough

    As usual brilliant, so funny, couldn’t control SP’s laughter- just what’s needed on a wet miserable Sunday in February.

  2. First time reader, I don’t think I have ever read a wittier blog. EVER!

    However, we have all been there. I’m not sure which is grubbier, the mascot outfit or the ball pool… urgh!

  3. Veronica Matheson

    Brilliant post. Those places are filthy, and yet there we are, with our young, will-pick-up-anything-and-eat-it children. Great blog!

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