Sunday, 4 November 2012

Stealth holiday

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

- etc.

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?


Laura said...

This is in no way a reflection on your writing skills but I don't quite understand what Centre Parcs is. Amusement park? Campground? Crime scene? My best guess based on your post is that it's all of the above mixed with a large dollop of self-catering holiday hell. Is that about right?

My weekend: grading 80 essays from students who seem to think their time is better spent vigorously plagiarizing from obscure corners of the Internet than actually reading the material. Would much prefer to have sat in the reading nook with your boys or maybe gone on that pony ride.

Laura said...

BTW, I don't think Americans say "self-catering" but it's a useful phrase and we should definitely adopt it.

the crabbit man speaks said...

my weekend was pretty much a non event-thankfully your blog has given me reading material. changed my profile picture-that's about height of it-can anyone beat that for a non-weekend?

ganching said...

Rather miraculously I completed a 5K race and wasn't even the last person to cross the line. That was yesterday morning and I have done nothing since apart from lie on the sofa eating chocolate and admiring my medal.

Margaret said...

I spent the weekend feeling guilty for having power and hot water and Internet--and working since no one could get to work all week, but apparently all the work still has to be done.

The Reluctant Launderer said...

I cried in Tescos, due to the frustration of buying newborn nappies. The woman I then yelled at was very nice about it. My husband has gone to sleep in the spare room. (There is no bed in the spare room, which tells you what you need to know about how hideous it is to be married - or even near to - me.)
I thought Centre Parks was an English thing, obviously not. Bet you don't get poached penis in the New Forest venue (For that you need to come to Clapham Common).

Anonymous said...

For about the 7th weekend in a row, our Saturday has had furious NW gales (Springtime here) followed by a gloriously sunny Sunday. This is all to be expected at this time of year, but has seriously hampered our chances to get out sailing (scheduled for Saturdays only). Some may think, why would you want to get all wet and exhausted in that little walnut shell of a boat? (various classes of dinghy ranging from about 9ft to 14ft long) - but it's so refreshing, when it's not a gale of course! On the other hand I took part in an early morning church parade with brass band, and helped wake up central city residents -that was fun!
Heather (NZ)

Waffle said...

Laura, I have added an explanatory paragraph on Center Parcs, but your description is basically very accurate.

Ganching - Congratulations! Continue eating chocolate.

Patience_Crabstick said...

This made me laugh out loud several times, especially the poached penis.

Like you, I detest "fun" activities, particularly those involving water. I have a sister-in-law who isn't satisfied until she has compelled everyone around her to partake in activities of misery: "Let's go water-skiing! Let's rent bicycles! Let's go ice skating!" She's insufferable and it's my life goal to stay away from her as much as possible.

My weekend was momentous in that I went to a Greyhound bus station for the first time in my life which gave me occasion to reflect on my ridiculously sheltered middle class life.

laura said...

My weekend involved sitting in the car for a total of 16 hours (split over two days) at the side of a race circuit while trucks whizzed past, curry with a friend and her strongman husband and then 6 hours in motorway traffic. Oddly this is our idea of fun, probably because it means we avoid being outside for any length of time

frau antje said...

Hope they wore the little asbestos removal suits on Halloween. I would have opened the door, but then I live in a tennis ball.

Anonymous said...

*feelingly* There is No Pain like Horse Pain.

That dessert. I can't... no. I have no words.

Center Parcs is the place where I go to huddle miserably on a plastic chair in the steam-filled grot-cafe (having waded through the verruca pool with my trousers rolled up like a 1950s Dad at Skegness) while Harry & John throw themselves gleefully around the water. Occasionally I have to take charge of a bored small child while John goes down the rapids alone. One day per holiday, I must actually get a swimming costume on & brave the awfulness that is the changing room, or they complain that I am not joining in. And yet I continue to book the bloody place, every January!

Patience Crabstick, I will shoot your SIL for you if you like, on the condition that you somehow tranquilise the rest of my family for me. And try Digbeth, (Birmingham, UK,) coach station at night for a fresh horror. Worse than Port Authority.

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