A few weeks ago I had a week off in-between jobs. Instead kicking back and relaxing, my wife thought it would be a great idea if I spent three days of my much-anticipated holiday looking after our daughter while she went to work; the proviso being that we could spunk the money we saved not hiring a nanny to do something together sans child for once. I agreed/acquiesced to this arrangement — after all, I’m dandy Dad and if anyone can show my daughter a good time then it’s me, right?

I thought I’d share the highlights/learnings of my week, starting with Monday’s action…

Clown’s pocket

Two words: CLOWN TOWN. Yes, it’s as Stephen King as it sounds. A vast soft play centre in a business unit behind a Tesco Extra, just off the North Circular Rd. My sense of trepidation grew when my wife warned me to get there early, “If you go any later than 11am then you’ll want to kill yourself…” were her very words. The thought of a huge soft play area completely void of people is a frightening enough prospect in itself, so after force feeding Martha some porridge in front of Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, I strapped her into her pushchair and jumped on the 134 bus, heading straight to the 10th circle of hell.

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The grand entrance — I really hope there aren’t any actual clowns

It was £4 for Martha and I got in for free — could be worse. Most of the building is taken up with the restaurant area, which sells sandwiches, jacket potatoes and yes, chicken nuggets (all served with chips, carrots and cucumber sticks). Most of the space is given up to a monstrous 3-level multi-activity play frame for older kids, while toddlers and crawlers have a ball pond and gated soft toy play area.

Basically, Martha loved it. She loves exploring and doesn’t seem that phased by other small nappied creatures. Thankfully there were only a few other kids around, which meant I had to endure very little contact with other parents. I only had to flash a couple of fake adoring smiles at inferior-looking babies in front of their doting parents, so all good. I could have stayed all day (despite the out-of-date chart muzak pumping from the speakers) had it remained as tranquil but the place soon started filling up, noise levels rose to shrill and I had to bark at several older kids who wondered into the sanctity of our padded playpen. Time to grab Martha and run. Got a bottle of milk down the little lady and bang — we’d made it to her 11am nap without a hitch.

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No way, you’re staying in there until your batteries run out

Park life

I spent the next few hours reclining on the sofa, reflecting on my successes as a father (three hours and counting) and planning the rest of our afternoon together. As the weather was still balmy, it made sense to visit the park. Martha is fascinated by other babies, children and animals, plus this would be a great way to expend her seemingly limitless amounts of energy . The only snag being, out of habit, I will circle the park to find the quietest spot, as far away from babies, children and animals as possible. It’s funny but the thought of making smalltalk with parents is terrifying until you actually start doing it, then it’s fairly akin to the chat you have with procurement/accounts people in the staff kitchen while you reheat some of yesterday’s dinner in the microwave — not particularly desirable but far from demanding. Still, I certainly don’t want to be instigating it.    

After chasing crows for ten minutes and pining after the kids in buggies who would occasionally cross our path (I thought I’d chosen the remotest spot in Alexandra Palace FFS) Martha was beginning to make me feel hot and bothered. I’d forgotten to pack any liquid refreshment for myself after concentrating so hard on getting her travel bag ready (my wife’s checklist is nothing if not comprehensive) so as far as I was concerned there was really only one thing left to do…

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Before you judge me, at least we’re outdoors ok?

I hate it when a pub has Doom Bar and London Pride on at the same time, what the hell is a man supposed to do? First world problems…

Watch out for the next post in this series to find out what we did on Tuesday – it ain’t pretty!