The Casual Father: Soft-play centre is cross between Lord of the Flies and Fun house

Casual Father

Casual Father - Credit: Archant

While I wouldn’t class Elizabeth as fully mobile yet, look away for 30 seconds and she’ll be off her play mat and travelling backwards under the nearest couch.

Our little girl is growing up fast, and it certainly won’t be long before the wife and I are chasing our tails in her wake.

But last weekend I found myself treated to a glimpse of what life is actually like in toddlerville.

My brother Paul and his two kids, aged five and one, stopped in for a visit on their way to a “soft-play” facility in the area.

If you have no idea what one of these places are, please don’t worry. Neither did I. But the wife thought it would be a good idea to tag along to find out.


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It’s an eye opening experience from the moment we pass through the turnstile. Hundreds of screaming youngsters, high as a kite on cola, sweets and life, fly past with no regard for adults in an intimidating play frenzy.

It’s like we’ve landed on a planet ruled by children – who, quite frankly, don’t have any rules.

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Add in the pumping drum and bass music, and you’ve almost got a nightclub for the under 10s, except the only thing being pulled is each other’s hair.

The kids are hypnotised by the huge, soft temple-like structure, which engulfs the building and reminds me most of Pat Sharp’s Fun House.

One thing’s for sure, it’s so large that it would have eaten the old blue climbing apparatus at my primary school and spat it out.

In fact, I’m a bit mesmerised by it also, and have to remind myself that it is only a large soft play area. But when my five-year-old niece grabs my hand to pull me in, I realise that it’s so much more than that.

There’s slides, ball pits, swings, and even a basketball court, which stereotypically seems to have been taken over by an older kid gang. It’s the toddler Wild West, and anarchy rules in this play city.

Not only is my resolve tested by the Lord of the Flies action going on, but I also rediscover just how bad my flexibility is as I am forced to make my way through spaces clearly not designed with me in mind.

After contorting myself through an opening and down a slide, my niece and I eventually find the others sprawled in the ball pit.

The sign on the outside says the pit is for under fours and carries a maximum of 54 children, despite it looking crowded with about six in.

I mention this to my brother, now a veteran of such places, who says “Yeah, but you can fit a few under the surface.”

“I’ve had to kick a few out,” chimes the wife, “Definitely older than four.”

A painful 45 minutes later, we say our goodbyes with Elizabeth, fortunately, getting grumpy and hungry.

It is in the car on the way home that the wife, now with a thumping headache, makes me swear to a pact.

“We will never tell her of this place.”

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