I spent my weekend at Center Parcs, which, for the uninitiated, is a huge complex built in the middle of a forest and includes a giant swimming pool, sports centre, restaurants, mini-supermarket, bars, and many other places where you can part with your cash.
Our visit coincided with the first Christmas weekend, a fact my sister casually mentioned on the journey up.
‘What do you mean, Christmas weekend?’ I asked.
‘Well, there’ll be a Santa’s grotto and an elf-hunt and a Winter Wonderland section with singing reindeer,’ she replied. I looked at her as if she’d taken all leave of her senses.
‘Did you know this when you booked?’ I asked, making no attempt to hide the disbelief from my voice. ‘Yes, I thought the kids would love it,’ she said, then turned to my mum and began plotting an itinerary for the weekend. ‘I thought we could do the pony trek at 8am and then meet Santa at 10…’
I began to wonder if I was related to these people. They seemed genuinely excited.
Going away is one of those things having children changes forever (and by changes, I mean ruins).
Back in the old days I went on holidays of my choosing – trekking in South America, exploring the Rocky Mountains in Canada, erecting a dry stone wall on a barren windswept hill near Haverthwaite.
When you have children, all that comes to a halt. You must select something they will enjoy, even if it means you will not enjoy it whatsoever, which seems grossly unfair given we’re the ones paying for it.
What makes it worse is that my child is now at an age where she is demanding things. For 18 months myself and Mrs C were convinced we had given birth to the perfect child. She showed no hint of dissent, she was well-behaved and loving, she was an angel child. As friends told us horror stories of things their terrible offspring were getting up to, we’d sympathise and then, when on our own, mock and boast about what superb parents we must be.
Then a month or so ago, Mary – our daughter – suddenly turned into what I can only describe as a horrible brat. It coincided with her starting to talk and learning the words ‘no’ and – particularly where food is involved – ‘more’.
Anyway, we found ourselves visiting the Winter Wonderland. This involved lots of fake snow and talking puppets, including a group of singing reindeer.
Mary was truly captivated by this. Every time I tried to pick her up and carry her away she burst into tears, which, when you’re surrounded by other parents, is a tad embarrassing.
The end result was we stood watching the reindeer sing Silent Night for around 45 minutes.
As we were walking towards Santa’s grotto a young man dressed in an elf costume ran towards us. ‘Hi there and happy Christmas!’ he bellowed. It was November 10.
He – probably a failed drama student – had blusher on his cheeks to make them look rosy and wore a green costume and little elf hat. My heart went out to him. He had to spend his full day dressed like this, running around looking happy and speaking to children. Twenty quid says he’s on anti-depressants.
Our meeting with Father Christmas was a slight anti-climax. Mary cried as soon as she went in the room and refused to sit on his lap. My four-year-old nephew tried to pull Santa’s beard off and sobbed because his present was a toy penguin when he’d specifically asked for a Scalextric.
‘You’ll have to wait for Christmas Day for that,’ said Santa, desperately. ‘But I want it now,’ wailed my nephew.
We then went back to our lodge where my nephew snapped the beak off his penguin and Mary had a meltdown because she wanted a bag of Wotsits.
Roll on Christmas.