Before the boys went back to school on Tuesday, we decided to spend last week visiting my in-laws in Norfolk and, unlike our main summer holiday in Northumberland (which Mother Nature seemed hell-bent on fully submerging during our stay), we enjoyed a week of glorious sunshine.
While we were there, my in-laws treated the four of us to a day out at Norfolk’s premier forest-based adventure park, BeWILDerwood, which is essentially a woodland activity centre, filled with tree-houses, mazes, rope-swings, bridges, and slides.
When I discovered we would be spending a day with the boys at BeWILDerwood, it would be fair to say my reaction was somewhat mixed. On the one hand, I like adventure (some would say ‘Adventure’ is my middle name, but it’s not, it’s James), the activities looked like a lot of fun, and it meant I got to spend some quality time with my boys. On the other hand, while I do like adventure, I love napping more, and a day at BeWILDerwood also meant I had to spend some quality time with my boys.
Most importantly of all, however, was the fact that, following our recent glamping weekend in the New Forest, where I was bitten by every fucking insect known to man (and, for which, I am still suffering several weeks later), spending time in the woods was way down my list of priorities. In fact, as far as priorities go, it was somewhere near shaving my gentleman’s potatoes with a rusty hacksaw. Still, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so off we went.
Having arrived nice and early, in order to beat the queues for the boat ride (which takes you from the main entrance to the park itself), we collected our wrist bands and managed to board the second boat of the day.
Here, we were greeted by our driver, ‘Riley’, who regaled us with tales of the ‘Boggles’ and ‘Twiggles’ supposedly living in the woods, pointing out the various tiny houses and communes which the owners of the park had constructed either side of the riverbank. It would be fair to say Riley was very theatrical, which the kids on the boat loved, but I found irritating within seconds. That said, his boat steering skills were second-to-none, and a few minutes down the river we were safely moored up at the main park.
Once we had gathered our bearings, as well as making a mental note of the various ‘story times’ for later in the day, the boys clambered around one of the smaller assault courses for a bit, completed the ‘sky maze’ (which we would have finished far sooner, had we not allowed Isaac to lead the way), and then set about doing some ‘den building’.
Ollie, naturally, had his own very precise methods of designing a camp purely from logs and sticks, which inevitably resulted in a den that made Boris Johnson look stable, while Isaac – in typical Isaac fashion – quietly went about his business on the opposite side of the forest clearing to his brother, and I think the results speak for themselves:
Having opted for an early lunch (again to beat the queues – which happens to be one of my favourite things to do on a day out), where Isaac spent more time crying than eating, because he only had three bags of crisps and wanted four, my wife then overheard the finest example of parenting we would encounter all day, as a frustrated father barked at his child “Look, I’ve paid forty quid for you to come and play here, so go and fucking play!” Lovely.
Continuing the theme of obnoxious families (as a general rule of thumb, if our kids are some of the best behaved in any given situation, the other parents need to take a long hard look at their own offspring), I then encountered the most revolting brat I have seen for some time, which bearing in mind I was playing with Isaac at the time, is really saying something.
As Isaac clambered up a sloped wall via the rope and footholds designed to assist a child’s ascent, a mouth-breathing little shit appeared at the top of the apparatus and shouted down at Isaac to “MOVE!” because he wanted to slide down the ramp the wrong way. Worse, as I politely pointed out that this perhaps wasn’t a very good / safe idea (in case his much larger father happened to be in the vicinity, ready to punch me for challenging his son), the kid snarled at me and slid down anyway, nearly knocking Isaac flying off the wall.
Grinning in my direction at his achievement, I satisfied myself that the boy’s parents were not in fact nearby, before growling at the kid “do that again, and I will break your fucking ankles, you little turd”, which seemed to go unnoticed, but certainly made me feel better.
Still, as he wandered off (no doubt in search of another child to pick on), I did notice he was singing Starship’s ‘We Built This City’, so although I still thought he was an obnoxious little shit, at least he was an obnoxious little shit with some taste in music (oh, shut up, it’s a classic and you know it).
After lunch, it was time to listen to a story about ‘The Boggles of BeWILDerwood’, ably narrated by frustrated drama student, James, and his team of puppeteers. In fairness to him, despite being highly irritating (which seemed to be a pre-requisite to work there), James had the crowd of children captivated for at least half an hour, and once he had finished, he invited them all back later in the afternoon for the ‘Bouncing Bubble Party Parade’. I had no idea what this meant, but I had a feeling it would not be my particular idea of fun.
In order to be suitably dressed for the occasion, the boys decided they wanted to visit the ‘create your own crown’ area, where children were ‘encouraged’ (albeit, not by their parents), to design a resplendent headdress for the afternoon’s procession out of a variety of brightly-coloured craft items.
Naturally, Ollie took great care to meticulously recreate the colours and badge of the ‘football team’ he has established at school (which he is adamant all of his classmates are obsessed with, even though it is perfectly clear to everyone bar him that nobody gives a flying shit), while Isaac attempted to stick as much tinsel and glitter to his headdress – and himself – as possible. Our children summed up in one arts and crafts activity, folks.
Having just arrived back to the storytelling area with seconds to spare, my wife and boys joined the Parade behind ‘Mildred the Crocklebog’, and gleefully marched around the woods for ten minutes, while I busied myself locating a bin to dispose of the soggy ice cream cone Isaac has insisted he would eat if we bought it for him.
By this point, the wee I had been needing for the past hour was reaching critical urgency (the pressure on my aging bladder had eased slightly when the boys and I went down a large slide a short while earlier, but I suspect that is only because the slide was very steep, and I cannot rule out some wee having leaked out mid-descent), so I decided that once the parade was over I would go in search of the toilet.
Naturally (and I could not be using the term more sarcastically), there only seemed to be two toilets in the entire park – which, bearing in mind it was a long walk between them, and kids tend to leave their decision that they need the toilet until the last possible second, seemed a little foolish* – and so it took me ages to find my way.
*although, I guess, the assumption must have been that since the entire park was woodland, at least the boys (and some men) would relieve themselves up – or behind – the nearest tree.
(NB: I found that image on Google, just in case you think I had either asked my wife to snap me taking a piss, or, worse, I had photographed a stranger myself).
My particular situation was not helped by the urgency with which I needed to urinate, mixed with increasing frustration that the little map of the park I had been given at the main entrance was about as useful as an inflatable dartboard, so I only just located the gents (and emptied my agonized bladder) seconds before I suspect I would have passed out through pain. Which, bearing in mind that would have almost certainly meant doing so inside the toilets, with ‘the beast’ partially, if not fully, released to the viewing public, it was an outcome I was pleased to avoid.
However, because I had half-jogged the latter stages of my dash to the toilets, in a frantic panic to reach them in time, I could not fully remember the way back to my wife and boys, and so I had to once more consult the useless map of pointlessly-named regions of the park.
Thankfully, having passed through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly-twirly gum drops, and finally through the Lincoln Tunnel….. no, wait, that’s a line from Elf. Still, it might as well have been like that, for all the use the fucking map made, and by the time I was eventually reunited with my family, it was almost time to visit the toilet again.
In fairness, though, we had a great day, and best of all I avoided being bitten by any more flesh-eating insects. And, ultimately, if you can go for a nice family day out and avoid being eaten alive, that has to be considered a win.
Thanks for reading x