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.

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