If you're a child, soft play centres are the most amazing places in the entire world. And why wouldn't they be? Multiple levels of foamy fun, swinging things, tunnels that actually hurt your knees when you go through them but you're far too high on sugar and adrenaline to really care. Ball pits as deep as your waist; slides that are polished so well you shoot out the bottom like a bullet from a gun.
But, for parents, soft play centres can often be a theatre of nightmares.
Sure, it's great to get your kids worn out so they sleep well and don't pester you in the evenings, but the rewards come at a high price.
First of all, unless you go during a hot summer's day, the place will be packed. I mean, absolutely rammed with children, a few of whom you'll undoubtedly accidentally knee in the face as you wade your way to a table with your cappuccino.
You let your children loose in the centre like dogs off a lead, and watch as they scurry through cylinders and crawl over grubby surfaces.
Along the way they'll inevitably clash with other children and start crying, in which case you just motion 'it's OK, carry on playing' in sign language whilst trying not to glare at the parents of the child who just injured yours.
And there's always one child; one child who is so rowdy, so boisterous, so thuggish that he just races around the room in a sweaty mess, bulldozing every child in his path without any regard for their safety.
But the interesting thing about soft play centres is how they can transform you from a parent who's just trying to relax into one who is suddenly as supple and agile as the world's leading gymnasts; and, for dads especially, into some kind of Andy McNab-style commando.
Picture the scene: your child is at the top of three-storey soft play equipment when he or she starts crying. Perhaps the boisterous child has knocked them down in his insatiable rush for the slide; or, even worse, they need the loo.
One minute you're trying to enjoy a drink. The next, you're diving through holes and weaving your way across cramped platforms, your only thought that you have to reach your child before they pee all over the waxy padding. You feel like smearing finger-strokes of warpaint across your cheeks as you streak across rope bridges (those things are like razor wire) and swing your way through foam rollers.
And then, once the rescue is complete, you swagger back to your chair like a hero. Perhaps that's the only good thing about them; the opportunity to pretend you're part of the SAS.
Mind you, they do say war is hell. And so are soft play centres.
Do you love or loathe soft play centres?
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