I cannot stand soft play. A padded cell for adults and children. They are palaces of chaos, confusion and genuine horror. I've seen it go full on Lord of the Flies on a bouncy castle; a group of children surrounded the weakest one, bouncing in unison, chanting 'Piggy, Piggy, Piggy!" as the little one begs for mercy. There's always one child limping towards the cafe with a hand over one eye, whilst another rocks back and forth sobbing at the top of the death slide like extras in Saving Private Ryan.
Soft play centres are petri-dishes for every cough cold and stomach bug in a ten mile radius. The tacky feel of the reinforced plastic that covers every surface; it's the miasma of snot and spit that makes it shiny and sticky, you just know it is. You can see the gastroenteritis glistening on the walls. There's always a slight smell of vomit in one corner, you can't see anything but you know it's there, lurking, awaiting its next victim. You won't believe what I've pulled out of a ball pool. Toddler shit. That's what I've pulled out of a ball pool.
It's the wall of noise I really hate. You walk through the door and it engulfs you, driving out all rational thought. You have to rely on primal reflexes as a massive eight year old rages towards you like one of those fast zombies Danny Boyle invented - luckily if you do have to roundhouse kick one in self-defence at least you know they're likely to have a soft landing.
There are a lot of dads at soft play, but they're usually solitary creatures, nestling in the glow of a laptop. There is always a pack of evil mums. They sit in the badly designed cafe bit, rolling their eyes as they have to move their massive Storksacs to let a raddled mother of 4 get to the suspect looking squeezee bottles of ketchup. They sigh like Hurricane Sandy as the kid at the table next to them opens a second packet of crisps and they're not even Pombears. Apparently 'Tarquin and Jemima are absolute treasures and doing so well now they've started at the Steiner school.' but I'm pretty certain I just saw Jemima hit a toddler square in the face with one of those wrecking ball things.* I think it's the disparity between their behaviour and the standard to which they hold other people that pisses me off.
Finally there's the undignified scramble to get the kids out of the bloody place. It is hard to maintain a sense of authority when you are trapped between the horizontal rollers, like Winnie the Pooh after too much honey. There are tears, tantrums and stamped feet before the kids finally realise mummy is at breaking point and they need to stop laughing at her from the suspended rope bridge and come down and put their bloody shoes on.
Still, anythings better than dealing with the kids at home. See you there next weekend.
* If you haven't gone full Miley Cyrus on one of those things, you haven't lived. Its worth holding the 4 year old's birthday there just so you can get away with it and they can't kick you out.