I remember going on outings to manor houses as a child. I remember enjoying messing about with my friends, being generally bored by my surroundings and the occasional, surprising eruptions of volcanic rage from whatever parent was shepherding us around that day. I remember being casually unaware as to why they were getting so wound up. Everything seemed fine to me. I would very much like to slap the smug right out of that child. I simply had no idea how much shit had to get done just for me to have a moderately pleasant day with my friends.
Trying to fill the February half term with fun activities is a genuinely thankless task. It's too cold for the kids to take genuine pleasure in outdoor activities and everything inside costs a bloody fortune. Remind me, why am I not allowed to whack on Netflix for the entire week? But if don't we go out to expand our horizons and explore new places then I feel like I am not doing my job. So now I am now the parent, pack laden, hyper-organised and prone to anger of such searing intensity it has been known to parch my throat.
Even before you leave the house there is so much shit to sort out. To go on a grand day out in England, regardless of what month it is you will need a drink, a few snacks, wet wipes, wellies, waterproof trousers, a raincoat, hat, scarf, gloves, sunglasses, suncream and a towel (always carry a towel). If you have 2 kids double it. Scour the internet to find a bag big enough to carry this shit and still give you the option of carrying a three year old across muddy fields if necessary. If you even think about leaving some of this shit behind you are guaranteed a hurricane force tantrum at some point in the next six hours.
When deciding where to go always ensure that the activity is suitable for kids, not families. Suitable for families means an activity that caters for adults, offering over-priced 'artisanal' food that the kids won't eat and some manky jugglers that will perfunctorily 'entertain' the kids whilst you participate in the great British tradition of queuing. All events we attend must specifically acknowledge that kids will be present and that their terrible all-encompassing needs will be catered for in a variety of ways.
When you get there the logistics of carrying all of the things, marshalling children who are so giddy from their release from the confines of the car that they are spinning in circles endlessly gravitating towards any moving car in the vicinity and then actually locating the thing you have come to see is enough to make a grown woman weep. It usually involves a muddy trudge across a meadow to actually find what you're looking for and you can guarantee the chorus of the damned 'I'm bored' will start five steps in. I have actually heard myself howl 'Good, it's character building.' and can see the children thinking 'Well, if it built your character I don't want it.' They are not wrong.
If you have hit traffic on the way (which is almost guaranteed) then your plan of an hours play/exploring followed by a chilled out lunch is shot to pieces. One of the little cherubs will be determined to balance on tip-toe atop a fallen tree, offering the group the heady thrill of a possible trip to A&E. Another one is whinging like a Sean Nos singer because their feet hurt having had to walk all of twenty steps to get here. A third little sweetheart erupts in hot angry tears because they're soooooo hungry. The fourth one has clocked the gift shop and will not shut up about it. It is hard enough to manage their desires when they mesh, when they are disparate like this I tend to flap and hiss like a befuddled cockatrice.
When in doubt go where the coffee is, even if it means eating lunch at 11:30. Actually eating lunch at 11:30 is no bad thing as you will avoid the crowds that turn every national trust tea room into a Hieronymus Bosch vision of hell by about 12:45. I know there are people out there who are capable of preparing a packed lunch with all five food groups represented and a haiku for each child delineating the unique qualities that make them so loveable, but I am already carrying so much stuff that I look like the Junk Lady from Labyrinth and I can't be arsed. So I pay the eye-wateringly high prices for food and tell the kids that sitting outside on a damp picnic bench in a gale force wind is terribly good fun and aids digestion. Well, it's either that or take the kids inside and get tutted at by pensioners and that group of evil mums who seem to have followed me here from soft play.
Usually, I find that once the kids have had food* things smooth out a bit. If you can cut a deal with the gift shop obsessed child that it's 45 minutes at the playground/bird of prey display/dinosaur reconstruction/whatever and then they can all have a treat, there is a brief window of actual pleasant time. The reason why we came. The bit that you can take photos of to put on Facebook to cement the false impression of your life for all the people who don't really know you. It's lovely. It's the reason we keep doing this. Three hours of disgruntled faff is worth every minute of this fun. When they are still talking about it six months later it's like getting a good parenting award.
We are really lucky that there is so much on offer for kids these days - all over Britain there is a fantastic range of activities encompassing sports, arts, outdoorsy skills and science that is accessible to an ever increasing range of ages and abilities. When I was young I was expected to actually engage with the architecture and appreciate a Capability Brown garden without being allowed to even climb on any of it. And I bet the coffee was shit back then as well. My mother's volcanic eruptions were much more justified than mine are.
I will probably start an ad hoc personal review of the attractions we go to from now on in the new Days Out section I have just created. I will be as honest as I dare. Promise.
* who am I kidding, it's once I've had my coffee