Soft play Hell

by DannyUK

I’m writing this while sitting in Monkey Puzzle in Maldon. Monkey Puzzle is, if you hadn’t guessed by its name, a kids play area. It’s the best of a bad bunch in and around Chelmsford, though certainly not without its faults.

I’ve pretty sure I’ve touched on this subject before, but Chelmsford really could do with a decent place for kids to play. Scouse Girl refers to these places as “Soft play Hell”, which is fairly apt. For those that have never been, imagine a school playground, but set indoors with soft play equipment and slides, overdubbed with one cd of annoying boy-band based pop songs, normally piped through speakers on an old cd system which skips more often than an anorexic does meals. As a parent you sit there surrounded by other bored-looking parents, all of whom have paid upwards of £5 per kid to gain entry to the place, and close to £2 for a cup of warm liquid that is jokingly referred to as coffee, but has the same colour, consistency and smell as what you’d expect to find in the u-bend of an old hotel bathroom sink, sometimes complete with hair.

It’s no surprise that you generally get what you pay for at these places, and Monkey Puzzle falls in roughly the middle range. There are other places where paying just under £3 will gain you entry. The best example of this is at the local leisure centre facilities (called “Kool Kidz”, complete with spelling straight from a Slade album, though referred to locally as “Jungle Gym” for reasons that no-one seems to remember) or to Wacky Warehouse, generally part of a pub chain and a place which can vary from having a couple of staff who are fully involved and making sure the kids take part in drawing activities and the likes, to other times being like a kids play version of the Marie Celeste, complete with strange fishy smell.

However, if you’re feeling especially flush, you can go to Kidspace in Romford, where for £8.95 per kid (£8.95!!) plus an additional £2.95 per adult (cheeky bastards) the kids can play on go karts, scale climbing walls, do some kind of sky walk on a course suspended 20 ft in the air as well as the normal soft play stuff. You still get the same music playing over and over in the background, though. There really is no escaping Olly Murs in any of these places.

It would be nice to see something a little different, though. Something that was set up for the kids to enjoy, but hat also remembered that it’s us parents that have to sit there for two hours whilst the fruit of our loins run wild, bouncing off of padded walls, padded floors, padded toys and non-padded other kids. I would kill for a few changes in some of these places. Free WiFi, perhaps, so that I can at least read web pages on my phone. One particular play area in Chelmsford, Go Wild, is set in a dank building that I would guess was a factory in a former life, where the only signal you can get on your mobile at all comes by standing, by the large, windows at the side. Venture any more than a few feet away and your signal is gone forever.

If free WiFi is too expensive, then how about a decent drink? I’ve touched on the “coffee” above, but the tea in most of these places is weaker than the claim that Whitney Houston’s death was in no way at all connected to drugs. Honestly, I’ve seen piss that is less piss-like than the tea served at Monkey Puzzle. It’s not just the range or taste of the drinks (or rather the lack of both). The size of the cups is something to behold. I am in my mid-thirties. My first decade of adulthood was spent watching the cast of Friends sat on sofas in a coffee shop cradling drinks in containers so large that the handles were in a different postcode to the opposing rim of the cup.

Then the coffee shop culture kicked in over in the UK and if I leave a coffee shop after one drink these days without the desperate need to have a wee, I feel I’ve been short-changed. Yet Monkey Puzzle (and I apologise again for using them as an example) offer either a cup or a mug, with the latter being more expensive. This is understandable given that the mug is bigger than a cup, but if you referred to one as a dwarf drink and the other as a midget drink, you’d understand the analogy I’m using is pretty much spot on given the size of both are small, and there is very little difference in either.

I’m sure that there is room in Chelmsford for something different. The points mentioned above, while sarcastic, are also true, and that’s without touching on the small points like why a play area would have slides which cause static shocks every second or so you’re sliding down them. Or how Health & Safety stretches as far as recording an accident in the accident book and offering an ice pack for an injury that looks suspiciously like a fractured wrist (and then not bothering to follow it up with a phone call, despite telling you that was the procedure they follow). Or the time that we reported a dangerous piece of equipment to staff as the padding had come off of a hanging soft bollard, only for the staff to ignore it and another kid picking it up and wrapping it around the head of another kid. steel connection point first.

Given that this post was half-written surrounded by screaming kids and half-written with a distinct lack of caffeine, I reserve the right to be sarcastic and venomous. That said, the majority of visits to soft play areas in our town are generally incident-free, and I accept that some things (kids being gits, for example) are unavoidable. But these places really don’t make life any easier for themselves sometimes.

If anyone has any suggestions as to better places that I can take my bunch (aged 5 - 11) on a cold and wet snowy day, please let me know.

Mood: In need of caffeine

Location: Costa, Chelmsford

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