Saturday, 26 August 2017

Center Parcs Whinfell Forest Day 2

Awoke to the blissful smell of bacon frying. Well actually I’d been awake for about an hour but hiding in my bedroom, Internetting, safe from the ravages of kids wanting stuff. Unable to resist the siren call of cured meats any longer, got up and scoffed bacon, sausage, egg, toast and loads of black pudding which J had craftily bought knowing that as Emma is a veggie and M and G dont like it, well…

We couldn’t avoid the ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’ (three lies in one phrase - in fact a uriney leisure pool with water slides, think “Wet & Rancid”) any longer so the boys and I headed off down to the “village” centre. Paradise? Paradoxical more like - they sell this place as some sort of dirt-free nature junket when in fact it’s basically Alton Towers with trees. Having rattled down a series of 1997 fibreglass tubes with just enough gap between each section to stay legal whilst grating the skin off your back, I was totally knackered and beginning to remember why I always return from Center Parcs weighing less than before the trip. Fun though :)

Having burned off, indeed scraped off some calories, we summoned enough front to suggest to Emma that we deserved a pizza in the Belle Italia “italian” restaurant. Actually the grub was pretty good, and they did that little known Roman delicacy “Ripiena”. I think it’s also known as stuffed crust. Mmmmmmmmm stuffed crust. Emma had an Insalata Verde, and it was most definitely the biggest pile of green I’ve seen since Michael’s 2-year bout of snotty cold as a toddler.

The weather being a pretty good English summer day, i.e. cloudy and not actually freezing, decided to try our luck on the “lake”. Sit-on kayaks for J and M, a pedalo for me and G. I might have suggested a 2-seater kayak instead, but G wasn’t interested and anyway having nearly drowned him in Cornwall a few years back by taking him out on one of those stupid tourist-death-trap Early Learning Centre-type kayaks into the Fal estuary I thought better of it. What can go wrong with a gentle paddle on a man-made pond? Well, for one if you’re taller than 5’3’’ then trying to pedal a pedalo with a 10-year old who keeps forgetting that simply allowing your feet to go around isn’t the same as actually pedalling will displace at least two lower vertebrae. Secondly, sit-on kayaks can be easily capsized by the bow-wave generated by the staff “safety” speedboat racing to tell some other 10-year-old kid that he’s wandered too far from the rest of the sailboarding activity group. It was like the Battle of Jutland I tell ya.

J and M had to bike it back to the lodge sitting on wet arses due to the clever design of the kayaks which gathers bilge water right in the arse-sump. It’s this sort of hazard they don’t warn you about. Got back in time to listen to the Newcastle v West Ham match, won 3-0, splendid. Emma said I was actually enjoying myself on this holiday, instead of being a like an escaped mental patient like I normally am every summer - again something to do with the change of job probably. She says I am constantly active and should learn to “just be”. Just be what? Illogical. Did a Sudoku.

Ate “out” at the Lakeside “Inn”, actually quite nice because we got seats outside on the verandah overlooking the “lake”. Food was pretty standard pub grub fare (the chips in an amusing little basket that resembles... a deep fat fryer wire mesh guffaw) but tasty enough. Had some beer. Went back to the lodge, had some more beer. Match of the Day - Newcastle won 3-0 AGAIN! I could get used to this holiday thing.

Number of arguments: 0
Number of accidents: 0 not counting the wet arse incident
Anxiety level: no reading

Friday, 25 August 2017

Center Parcs Whinfell Forest Day 1

Every 20 years or so I change jobs, and the timing of this year’s event meant that I couldn’t take much holiday, as it would be unpaid and I am mean sorry I mean careful with the family’s money. Fortunately Emma was selflessly happy to commit to six weeks of tedium with a house full of uncommunicative boys, with no hint of constant moaning about it.

The family’s only excursion so far this summer has been a single night of camping at Greencarts Farm, a brutally exposed spot with a lovely view of the bleak, wind-battered ‘rugged’ beauty of Hadrian’s Wall country, and with comforts fully evoking the spirit of Roman soldiers, inexplicably patrolling a freezing frontier thousands of miles from their sunny olive-grove homes for dubious political reasons. I’m sure it’s absolutely gorgeous at Greencarts every now and then, but this day wasn’t now or then.

In fact it was only Emma, Michael and Gerry who enjoyed that sleepless, force nine gale night in an industrial-strength tent. It was with a tinge of guilt that I whispered “Pizza?” to Joseph as we drove at high speed away from the campsite back to our warm, dry home with wifi and that. However there was one key benefit to this camping trip: for Emma it made Center Parcs desirable by comparison.

I’m not completely heartless and had booked a single day off work - my birthday - enabling us to take a long weekend trip to the Whinfell Forest site near Penrith. The boys were massively up for it, cooped up as they had been for several weeks with only Xbox and Weetabix at hand to fend off the creeping sense of pointlessness and despair that permeates the summer holidays. So on the Friday morning we packed the car, as usual somehow seeming to take our entire worldly possessions with us for three night stay - mainly technology and spare trousers that won’t be worn.

I co-opted Joseph for the biannual ritual of the bike rack: how does it work, there’s a bit missing, shit it’s upside down, hang on that’s going to break the window NO DON’T DO THAT MY FINGER IS TRAPPED JUST DO WHAT I SAY etc. We then discovered that the kids had all grown out of their bikes, with the larger two too small for J and M but too big for G. They also all had several Center Parcs bike locks wrapped around them from previous visits. J decided he couldn’t bear the shame of this and spent half an hour unsuccessfully trying to remove it with a junior hacksaw. A valuable learning experience for him should he decide to take up bike theft when he’s at Uni in Manchester.

J casually mentioned en route that there had been dire warnings about not travelling that day due to engineering works on the West Coast Mainline. Seems this sort of situation has a hypnotic effect on some folk, who insist on having major road accidents just to make things worse: had to find a back-road detour around the inevitable caravan pile-up on the A69. Incredibly, this actually worked and as I smugly glanced back at the long queues on the main road behind us, made a mental note to be especially vigilant on our return journey for potential karmic balancing.

On check-in, given silicon wristbands with embedded RFID tag, granting access to the lodge and swimming pool lockers; probably also tracking our movements and profiling our thoughts. I was much impressed, but it just added to Emma’s sour disgust for the Metrocentreness of it all. The lodge is nice enough and has a chalkboard, so of course there was a large sketch of a turd with “Dad” written under it within seconds. Crucially for a woodland holiday, you can now get Wifi anywhere - bliss guaranteed. Weirdly, half the folk here are from the East Midlands. Perhaps it just wouldn’t be exotic enough to go to their local Center Parcs? You can just hear them commenting on how Northern everything is, all pancakes and pedalos.

Ate ‘out’ at faux French brasserie/bistro/whatever Cafe Rouge. Had to correct Michael’s unintended order of Escargots, averting a potential incident as we explained why the prawns were so small and curled up. Shame really, as the rest of the grub, whilst tasty enough, was to French cuisine as sloppy yellow chip shop curry is to downtown Beijing street food. Back to the lodge for Emma’s fix of Eastenders, and that rarest of entertainments: a family conversation. The best thing about this place is that it’s much harder for your kids to avoid/ignore you.

Number of arguments: 0
Number of accidents: 0
Anxiety level: condition orange