Mumblings - The rules of war at a soft play area are a rite of passage

The Squinting Cat,  on Lund House Green, on the outskirts of Harrogate, has a Wacky Warehouse.
The Squinting Cat, on Lund House Green, on the outskirts of Harrogate, has a Wacky Warehouse.
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Our weekly column by Sally Haslewood on the trials and tribulations of motherhood... The politics of the soft play area is a tricky business. Those of you who have the misfortune of having to enter one of these war zones will know exactly what I mean.

It is almost a rite of passage as far as parenthood is concerned. Having to deal with a stranger’s child when your precious little darling informs you that he has just been bitten/had his socks pinched/been pushed down the slide.

There is no doubt that these centres fill a requirement on a rainy day. They while away a few hours when you need to keep the kids entertained or burn off some energy and they can even provide a fairly low-stress birthday party. Having said all of that, I can’t deny that I absolutely hate them.

If I was writing this article six months ago I may well have held a different view as I was enjoying a small window of opportunity whereby I could actually go to one of these centres and enjoy a cuppa and a read of a trashy mag.

My eldest daughter was at an age where she didn’t need me to go in with her; she could manage all the equipment and was into making new friends.

My youngest was a baby and the drone of the place was enough to send her off into a blissful sleep.

Those were happy times.

Now, my youngest can walk (just), she is fearless, she is extremely vocal (no words yet, mainly screeching) and she has opinions on everything.

She has no care for rules. Rules like where you can and can’t take ride-on toys (like down slides) rules like keeping your socks on (can’t get a good grip on the slide with your socks on), sharing toys (if she is holding it, it’s hers), not snatching toys (if she can see it, it’s hers).

She has no awareness of danger – hell; she laughs in the face of danger! Four foot drops are to be tackled head first, tables laden with scalding coffees are to be climbed on to, slides are to be crawled up.

In short, she is a nightmare in these places. She does not want to remain in the boring baby areas which means I have got to spend my time crawling around on the play equipment.

It is no wonder I feel so anti soft-play these days.

We have three to choose from in Harrogate and I suppose we are lucky that at least we can rotate the misery.

The problem is, as much as I hate them, my daughters love them which means I am doomed to frequent them for at least a few years yet. So here is what I think are the highlights of each:

l The Wacky Warehouse at the Squinting Cat, Whinney Lane. The smallest of the three, it is usually fairly quiet (what I mean is tolerable), the staff have always been extremely friendly to me and the only one where you can get an alcoholic drink!

l Kidzplay, Beech Avenue. The largest and brightest of the three. There are loads of other classes that go on there like ballet, singing and soccer.

l Winkies, Provincial Works, The Avenue, Starbeck. This one has got trampolines and a mini town which makes it my girls’ favourite.

What’s on?

Thursday, August 30

10am- noon, Nidderdale Childrens Centre, Outdoor activities and fun. Please bring your own lunch if you wish. Meet at the children’s centre

Friday, August 31 (weekly)

1.30-3pm Café La Leche, Pannal Childrens Centre.Breastfeeding support group

Sunday, September 2

Weeton Show. Gates open 8am. A great family day out, Animal displays, childrens corner, punch and judy, dog show, 7.4k run, produce tent, rural crafts, music, bar tent open from 11am. Admission £6 adults £3 concessions.

Tuesday, September 4

9.45-11.30am The friendly St Mary’s Toddler Group is temporarily locating to the Scout Hut on St Mary’s Walk (postcode HG2 0LW, just off Cold Bath Road) while St Mary’s Church Hall is being renovated. £2 per family. Tea or coffee, craft and a toddler snack included

Looking ahead, Saturday, September 8

2-3.15pm Baby and Child Nearly New Sale, St Wilfrids Church Hall, Duchy Road. Admission £1.