Today’s columnist, Andrea Moon: Soft play but hard times

Inside Charlie Park, a new soft play activity centre at Victoria Mill, Atherton.
Inside Charlie Park, a new soft play activity centre at Victoria Mill, Atherton.
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Every Saturday morning before dawn, little feet patter into my bedroom and a tumble of fluffy hair covers my face followed by a stone-like head, grinding my nose flat. Not the gentle awakening by tiny birds and mice promised by Disney.

I had promised to take them to a soft-play centre. Suddenly that last glass of wine and extra half-hour of TV schmaltz last night don’t seem such a good idea.

Getting ready for school is one thing but why do kids take ages getting ready for something they want to do? Repeating “put your shoes on” until I’m hoarse and sweaty, then we have the “get in the car” debacle.

Accompanied by a chorus of “Are we nearly there yet?” there’s nine miles to go. Arrived and £15 down, coats and shoes are deployed as they run off into a jet-black warren of netting and garishly padded bars, for three minutes, then they’re back demanding drinks, sweets and anything from the myriad of vending machines that inhabit these places.

Nothing less than £1. A claw grabbing bundles of penny-sweets, only to lose them from its slack, juddering grasp swings over to the chute of disappointment.

Tuppence yield on a pound spent is never the delight that my kids anticipate.

Am I getting mean? Do I run the gauntlet between buying in bulk from the 99p Store and smuggling them in, or doing without to teach them the value of money?

There’s always the ubiquitous grandparent doling out lurid Slushy drinks in bizarre plastic containers resembling the latest animated character, along with copious sweets,chocolate and ice-cream to make other parents look stingy and neglectful.

Then there’s the toy vending machines. “Toy” is a very loose description of the contents of these machines.

They are usually brightly coloured and enveloped in shiny plastic spheres, the clear-half seductively offering a hint of the riches to be discovered inside.

These usually transpire to be e-number riddled pips of citric-acid and sweetener, four non-sticky stickers featuring an action-figure from three years ago, and a plastic choking-hazard masquerading as a toy.

This “toy” is specifically made to incorporate a device that results in approximately three minutes of play once opened, then just as you buckle up your child and close the car door to leave, it will disintegrate into toxic plastic spikes, two of which disappear never to be found.

I once made the mistake of taking the kids for lunch after softplay then to the cinema to watch the latest blockbuster.

Perfect for six year-olds you would’ve thought, but no. Tired and grumpy after soft-play, too full with fizzy drinks to eat, frozen and bored in the cinema and begging for popcorn.

(Why do they only sell it in military catering bag size made from gossamer which immediately vomit their contents over the pitch-black floor? Mind you I do look forward to unpacking my bra at the end of the day and scoffing the sneaky kernels that get lodged in my cleavage).

The kids whinge all the way home clutching wilted balloons and remnants of razor-sharp plastic Ninja body-parts, complaining they feel hungry as they haven’t finished their burger.

Never again. Okay, next weekend maybe?

* Andrea Moon, Mum