You may wonder - or more likely you couldn't give a flying fuck - about my absence. It is half term, and somehow I have ended up taking a week's holiday, mainly due to utter disorganisation. We went to Center Parcs, which seems to me a very '90s type of activity; a relic of a more innocent age when people were prepared to pay €5 for a single log.
(Center Parcs, for the happily uninitiated, is an originally Dutch holiday camp concept, where you pay a great deal of money to go and stay in a small wooden chalet somewhere in the back of beyond. There are no cars allowed in this giant field of small wooden chalets, so you are required to go around on bicycles which you must hire for great additional amounts of money, and you can take part in a number of activities, such as standing in a damp wood trying to avoid getting hit on the arse with small, painful paint capsules, riding Segways, climbing trees wearing a harness, etc. All such activities come at additional cost. Center Parcs are most famous for the giant glass covered bubble that festers at their centre, which contains a gigantic "tropical" swimming pool (this is actually FREE, thus crammed), various ill-advised eating options and a small supermarket where you can pay top dollar for a small packet of firelighters)
Resolutely behind the curve, this was my first time, and we spent most of our trip trying to outwit the Center Parcs charging structure, foraging damp tree stumps from the surrounding area to burn, and importing 900 bottles of cheap wine. We ground a certain amount of grim satisfaction out of all the things we did not pay for and there were goats to admire and Shetland ponies and a gigantic, furious turkey, so it was not all huis clos in a purpose built chalet, playing horrible French board games and getting therapeutically drunk*. (*it was mainly, though)
I do not think I am the obvious Center Parcs customer, what with my:
- inability to ride a bike
- intense aversion to water
- and fun
- and the country
- difficulties with living in close proximity to, well, people
- dislike of 95% of all physical activity
- poor balance and co-ordination
- lack of practical skills
- desire for urban convenience
Most conversations went something like:
"Will you come on the waterslide?"
"But it's amazing! It's totally in the dark and you circle around seven times before ending up face first in the water!"
"Oh my god. Have you ever met me? No".
"You will really though, won't you?"
Frankly, if I had been in charge of me, I might have just clubbed me over the head with a €5 log and buried me somewhere behind the Paintball field.
Of course, this was a child-motivated trip and between bouts of arguing, the children did a fair job of enjoying the giant bubble of chlorinated death and dressing up like something from CSI Meurthe et Moselle:
I cannot quite decide whether they look more like forensic technicians or operatives in some kind of Sodexo industrial kitchen. We stole the paper boiler suits, so we can explore this further at our leisure.
Also, it snowed which was discombobulating, but pretty. The less said about the poached penis dessert, the better.
The way it is drooping obscenely over the edge is particularly distressing. We ate many variations on crème dessert in packets, but I think this was by far the worst. My attempt at a microwave mug cake was also disastrous though, so I am poorly placed to criticise.
On our return from the Compound, we had two days at home where we tried, fruitlessly, as we do each year, to inject a bit of Halloween spirit into Brussels, the town where placing an unadorned pumpkin to decompose gently in your shop window passes for seasonal decoration (see here). If anything, Halloween was greeted with even less enthusiasm than usual on the streets of Uccle, I thought. Belgium, I sense, thinks it has done Halloween at least once or twice, and doesn't need to do it again. Sadly, my children are not in agreement. Delhaize's pumpkin offerings were limited to four flat white squashes and when we went trick or treating, the neighbours shouted rather querulously at us that they were in bed at 8:30pm. Only 4 people opened their doors and all of them were offering Chokotoffs, which are these hideous, punitive toffees designed by the dental industry to leach all the pleasure out of confectionery, whilst creating a series of complex and expensive orthodontic problems. We sloped home, discouraged, after 5 minutes and ate all our own sweets, which were vastly superior.
Finally, we went back to my favourite place in the Ardennes, as compensation for the rest of the holidays. The weather was terrible:
so we sat in front of the fire and nested, mainly. The children occupied this niche:
occasionally breaking off to fight bitterly with each other, and I retired to the bath, which has a view over the forest, filled it to the brim with Elemis Supersoak and wallowed, mindlessly, staring at the beautiful autumn colours and failing to think Big Thoughts.
Fingers made me take him swimming and quizzed me intensively - but I suspect inaccurately - on the life cycle of the harvest mouse. He claims it weighs 7 grammes and lives in a tennis ball, or something. Maybe I wasn't wholly concentrating.
We also did some thinking about what animal he should have when he is ten. He is hesitating between a ferret and a chicken. I think a harvest mouse sounds perfect, personally.
We did venture out once as far as Bouillon castle to see a baffling bilingual falconry display (Fingers held an owl, Lashes had something enormous and.. talony sit on his head, which, in a minor concession to otherwise disregarded health and safety, was protected with an old saucepan), and once to the pub in the village to eat enormous croques monsieur. Then this morning I went riding over the bracken topped hills on a really quite tetchy and uncooperative, though beautiful, Camargue horse called Aléosse.
I am in serious horse pain, but smell divinely of equine sweat and leather, which is a scent no one has ever managed to effectively bottle, and especially not that weird Artisan Parfumeur scent that is supposed to smell of leather and dung and circuses, but which does not work at all for me. It was all lovely, basically, and felt like a stealthy and wholly unearned holiday. Now I have to work again, and I fear I have forgotten how. I suppose we will see tomorrow. I rather imagine I will be discovered sitting, prunelike, in a cooling bath at 4pm furiously refusing to engage with adult life.
How was your weekend?