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