Friday, 8 August 2014

Center Parcs days T minus 4 through to leaving day, blurring into one long time-suspension holiday trancelike miasma of taster physical activity

Activity: Little Explorers nature walk, "Who's out after dusk?" nature walk, field archery and target archery and badminton and quad bikes and swimming and fencing and table tennis and some other things.

FFS what was I thinking of? THREE sons!? What great evil did I do, or extreme indolence display, in a former existence to deserve this karma? Holiday shmoliday. Next year despite myself I may after all opt for the brainless villa/pool/beach thing.

I'm sure you know the formula: 45 minute slot, late teenage instructor, health and safety briefing, dads in 3/4 length camo shorts with weary expression lined up with excitable ten-year-olds, followed by a brief, incompetent and sweaty stab at something I'll probably never do again.

"Field archery" involved wandering around a cordoned-off patch of woods attempting to shoot a succession of pathetic-looking foam replicas of various forest creatures. Any qualms about killing bogus Bambi and Baloo were quickly dispelled by the comic effect created by whacking an arrow into the arse of a motionless bear whose ears have already been shot off. I was tempted to recreate a pic of Michelle Bachman, the American teenage girl who publishes photos of her gloating over the corpses of various large African wildlife, but decided I didn't want to be hounded to my social media death by short-sighted click-happy Internet bandwagonners. Also had to be careful not to shoot J, who had turned up wearing a t-shirt with a target on it. Just as well I didn't, because he was able to witness his old man storming to victory in the final round. I confess my chest swelled a little, although he was probably thinking "I wonder what's for tea".

J discovered that he was left-handed half way around the course, and the sudden improvement in his accuracy prompted a go at Target Archery the following day. No fake armadillos this time, just the pure sport of big targets with numbers on. This time he beat me, sod. To be fair, I was distracted thinking about what was for tea.

I was able to recapture the momentum in badminton (beat J hands down) and fencing (murderous and relentless assault on some little lad's dad, must have been wondering what my problem was), but despite my obvious superiority at table tennis J is adamant that he won 3-2. He's 15 now so I don't need to let him win or think he's won - I mean soon enough he will be trying to knock me out or something won't he?

In the evening took G for the "Who's out after dusk?" trip. Rushing to avoid being late through a glorious woodland evening, G declared that "there's no time to stop and admire". Expecting that it would be the same lame stroll round the back of the tennis courts that G had done in the "Little Explorers" excursion a couple of days earlier. Instead we were treated to a long yomp round the adjacent Sherwood Pines country park by Craig, one of the aforementioned nature rangers and someone who clearly models himself on Ray Mears, even down to the strange utility gilet affair he was wearing. Here is a match for G, I thought, even when after he mentioned that the badgers might be coming out soon G replied "Yes, that makes sense because they're nocturnal" at which point I had to tell G to shut up and listen (yes OK I know).

I have to say I admired Craig for his surprising depth of knowledge of flora and fauna, especially for a young chap - at least I think he was young, it's hard to tell with nerds of his calibre. I was also greatly impressed by his calmness despite the complete absence of any of the scheduled wildlife. The badger sett was a space in the trees where some badgers allegedly live, and the birds had clearly misunderstood the term "bird hide". I felt for him when he regretfully mentioned that the Sherwood Pines plantation is almost devoid of wildlife. To make up for this he regaled us with knowledge about various plants and mini-beasts until the bats came out. G had been waiting almost two hours for this moment, not because he's interested in bats but because it meant he could finally use the 'bat detector' device we'd been handed at the beginning and about which he had continually nagged since the start of the walk, missing everything else around him. Bat sounds amplified, result, can we go home now.

As our stay passed, the paucity of TV channels and limited WiFi which at the beginning seemed like a welcome release began to cause us to become slightly unhinged. It's like being marooned on an island - it might teach you how to survive without human contact but you'll probably go gaga in the process. Deprived of Xbox, telly, Internet etc. the boys' conversation became increasingly bizarre: word of the holiday was "turd", used to abuse each other approximately once every minute during every waking hour, and during a play fight G countered J's "celeriac feet" with a "rolling eyes attack".

On a changeover day I saw some new arrivals, falling off their bikes, pointing fingers and generally looking lost. Another was gawping at a swan and illegally feeding it some tasty morsel. As I watched I smugly thought "Huh, newbies" at this moment I knew it was time to go home. I had become accustomed to Parclife, like a citizen of some ersatz Canada. I began to crave edginess and gritty reality. And some decent WiFi.

So... when we got home to find a big wet patch on the sitting room ceiling...

More next trip.

Center Parcs 'Sherwood Forest' Day 5ish, maybe 9

Activity: Caving Adventure, Adventure Golf, assorted other adventures

Being vertiginous, I like to climb mountains and walk along ridges, so as to give my brain the shot of adrenaline it needs to fend off creeping melancholia. Likewise as a claustrophobe, nothing excites me like the thought of squeezing into narrow underground tunnels, forcing one's caver-unlike torso into crevices shaped to terminally trap overambitious mid-life-crisis types. Of course I jumped at the chance to accompany M and G through Center Parcs' new indoor Caving Adventure course: imagine a giant closed marble run designed by a 23-year-old death wish sadistic outdoor type who hasn't yet reached the "Y'know, actually I think perhaps I would like to survive beyond thirty" stage, and who doesn't count amongst his trendy outdoor type mates anyone with a waist size above 28". G, being small, practically ran around it. I on the other hand got my money's worth. The air inside was thick with sweat vapour, barely controlled panic and groaning as knees whacked into tactically placed fake stalagmites. I half expected to encounter the decomposed remains of the last foolish dad, alongside scratched messages to loved ones progressively deteriorating into desperate, animalistic claw marks which one can just make out: "I... want... {illegible}... refund".

More sandwiches for lunch, this time salami and the other flavour of cooked turkey in the Parc Market. Fast running out of options - we may have to resort to Pasta 'n' Sauce, but I doubt whether even starvation or extreme culinary paralysis could entice me to abandon basic human mores and consume Chicken Tonight.

The last time we did Center Parcs Emma won at Adventure Golf. Like a newbie gambler who wins at their first attempt and is thereby doomed to a lifetime of trying to repeat the feat, she sped eagerly to hole 1. Not crazy golf this, adventure. We didn't quite know what the adventure bit was until suddenly carpet bombed by raindrops the size of golfballs. Emma had little prospect of winning and it was with a conspicuous absence of decorum that she quickly insisted we abandon the game (on the last bleeding hole) due to rain, despite my protests that it was only a shower.

Chicken fajitas for tea. Thanks, Old El Paso - you really have thought of everything in your "dinner kit". Oh, apart from the lettuce, vegetables, soured cream, cheese and chicken. A metaphor for Center Parcs perhaps; holiday kit, just add sustenance and entertainment. In the box: accommodation, Subtropical Swimming Paradise, allowing you to ride a bike around.

Accidents: 0 Arguments: I WAS WINNING THE ADVENTURE GOLF DAMMIT

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Center Parcs day... not sure

Been living in an artificial environment too long and have lost all sense of time and reality. Day 4 I think.

Activity: LASER COMBAT F*** YEAH

The only activity that all three of the boys can do and want to do. What self-respecting boy wouldn't? Running around in the woods hiding behind fortifications and shooting each other with lasers? Need I explain? Things panned out pretty much as an action replay of the last time J, M and I did this during our last visit three years ago: I die immediately in every game, J wins or comes second whilst M does OK but looks grumpy, confused and dissatisfied. Newbie G just has a ball. I like to think that Laser Combat is a useful indicator of character: G's and M's responses mirror their attitude to everything and mine is typical of my "Sod it I'm just going to throw everything in and see what happens" strategy for everything. I'm intrigued by J's apparent prowess with a weapon; this means that he is calm and methodical, or that he's a born killer, or both. Let me know what you think. For the final game (everyone for himself) I was overcome by parental horror at the thought of my little G being mercilessly killed by older boys, girls or shudder, a grown man. I therefore grabbed him and ran to hide behind a barrier at the edge of the arena for the duration, much like Tom Cruise desperately hiding with his daughter in a basement in the recent remake of War of the Worlds. As just like in Hunger Games, I planned to sacrifice myself by allowing G to kill me should we survive to the end. As is the way of things my plans came to nought as we were picked off by another even more cowardly middle-aged bloke sniping from behind a camo net. There is neither logic nor justice in war.

Emma meanwhile spent the day in the on-site spa having her nails done and getting a massage. A mixed report: whilst such an indulgence can't fail to have a positive effect, there was something transactional about the way that the massage ended suddenly, time up, clunk. Behind all of the stuff about getting back to being you using hot stones, Hopi ear candles and nice smells there is a hard-nosed business model. You find your inner peace by the hour, and when the hour is up the peace ends. Also the girl who did the nails - and who apparently does nothing else all day, every weary day - "had no craic". Surprising that. How does a nail technician in a holiday resort make conversation if they can't ask "So, where are you going on holiday this year?"

While Emma was being ostensibly pampered it was my job to do lunch. Curried favour with Emma by shopping for healthy stuff, salad and that, to accompany and lessen the impact of the cold cooked meats my boys crave and which would surely have otherwise killed them outright instantly. They even ate some of the salad.

All week G has made friends with neighbouring kids in his easy and casual way, forming relationships based on a teacher-pupil dynamic. It seems there is an endless supply of kids who don't mind being told what to do by a super-confident nerd with a permanently sunny mood. They even come looking for him, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they asked "Is Gerry coming out to lecture us?"

Went out for a curry in the evening. A decent effort for a bunch of white Nottinghamshire teenagers, authentic even to the extent of giving Emma and me a sleepless night and making us feel shit the following day like all good curries should. God we're getting old.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Center Parcs Sherwood Forest day 3

Activity: Double bubble! Archery and raft-building.

The "Robin Hood and Little John archery" activity is a win-win: Gerry gets to try archery and I get to play with a bow and arrow under the guise of 'helping' him. Make no mistake, even these beginner bows are lethal. LETHAL. And the satisfying "thunk" of aluminium death slamming into the prone chipboard target stirs a deep, primal longing that rises in every man when confronted by nature in its raw condition, an echo of some long-buried instinct DAD DAD IT'S GERRY'S TURN oh yeah sorry. Managed to hit a bullseye, result! The dad in the next booth had clearly been cheating by doing it before or something. Oh yeah and Gerry had a nice time too, I think.

Lunch at the "Pancake House" - had, um, pancakes. But pancakes with meat in! And it must be OK because it's not nasty British junk food, it's a Dutch company that runs it.

Checked Joseph and Michael in at the boathouse for the raft-building. Having discharged my duties by ensuring that both had donned the requisite wetsuit and safety helmet (building a raft is clearly more dangerous than I had anticipated) I nicked off quickly without looking back. I knew what would happen - leaving J and M together to engage in any competitive activity is likely to end in trouble; if they're on opposite teams them there will be competitive grief, if they're on the the same team then J will assist/instruct/criticise M, to his enormous irritation. Apparently the latter happened and M scowled throughout, Emma and I weren't present to endure it so fine.

Left J alone at the villa for 20 mins while I nipped to the shop. Of course when I got back found that he had fallen off his bike whilst indulging in a quick spot of stunt mountain biking in my absence: deep and bloody grazes on elbows and hands. Wonderful. I suppose I shouldn't be angry, after all he is only bloody fifteen for chrissake. Back to shop to get heavy duty plasters. Looks like the main free activity here, namely swimming sorry the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, is off limits for him until sufficient scabbing has occurred. Oh yeah and everything else at Center Parcs involves hanging from ropes, swinging racquets and other bloody-palm-prohibitive actions. I showed the appropriate level of fatherly concern before calling him a bloody idiot. Well this was at least 50% technically a fact.

Accident: 1 Arguments: 0 (Joseph insisted he hadn't been doing anything silly on the bike but there's no argument really)