Godzilla... that's what it was!
I'd been watching, with growing horror, as one little boy - at least 6 months older than Sam - wreaked havoc in the vicinity. This child, who seemed to be part human, part concrete - seriously he was built like the proverbial brick lavatory - was roaming among the (much smaller) other kids with a gleefully sadistic look on his face.
Whenever the boy found another toddler playing with a toy he'd wrench it from their grasp and then, with a loud yell, push the other child to the floor. Soon, after inspecting the newly acquired item (whether it be a train, doll or spit-covered dummy), he'd toss it away and lumber off in search of his next victim.
It had been bothering me what the unfolding scene so reminded me of - until it finally struck me. I was watching a Godzilla attack.
A woman, on the seat next to me, tutted loudly.
"He's a little sh*t isn't he?" she said.
I couldn't help but nod in agreement, as said sh*t tugged an ambulance from Sam's hand.
"Isn't he?" I said, scanning the room for signs of an equally thuggish looking parent - who might be called upon to deal with the situation. "Do you know whose he is?" I asked.
"Oh yeah," said the woman, with a grin, "he's mine."
Welcome to Stay 'n' Play folks - Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
The thing is I needed to try and mix my day up a bit. We'd done the walks around town, soft play sessions and visits to the park as many times I it was possible without me actually losing the plot. My other half suggested a 'Stay 'n' Play' session.
"You just go there and Sam plays with toys, while you chat to other parents who've done the same thing."
Actually that's an exaggeration. It sounded tolerable. It's funny how my standards have dropped. Just a few years ago 'great' would have been a day out with the lads, great food, great beers, a movie, funny banter. Or perhaps it would have been a romantic meal at a Michelin starred restaurant...
These days 'great' was sitting (half-asleep) on a stiff municipal chair, in a room that only vaguely stank of vomit while Sam played.
Perhaps I hadn't read the small print. I didn't notice anything about this being a special 'Stay 'n' Play' - you know, one with a theme. But when I arrived I became certain, quite quickly, that this week the children had been asked to reenact Lord of the Flies.
Look, I'm no newbie when it comes to taking Sam to play environments. I'm the survivor of several Soft Play campaigns. I've been to hell, I know what it's like. But seriously, I've never known anything close to what I experienced at Stay 'n' Play.
Let's ignore Godzilla - take him as a given. Other incidents occurring during the play session included:
*A mum with a booming voice - seriously if I had shares in Tannoy I'd be worried - giving the entire room (whether we liked it or not) a blow by blow account of exactly where each of her post-labour haemorrhoids was (if anyone is interested I could draw them a detailed map).
*A discussion between two mothers, each conveniently situated at opposite sides of the room, regarding the nature of their partner's infidelity. One fascinating story involved a Premier Inn, pawned jewellery and an assistant manager at Halfords. I half expected Jeremy Kyle to arrive with a DNA test at any point.
*A child vomiting into a bucket of Lego. Not the end of the world you'd think? What really confused me is when the parent of said infant - rather than making an attempt to clean up the blocks - got the container and hid it in a cupboard.
*A dog, that had been left outside the venue, leaping up and barking through the open window at its owner who was inside staying 'n' playing. The owner, rather than dealing with the situation, insisted on screaming at the pet every time it appeared shouting: "Bad Dog! I'll have you put down!"
If I'm honest, after ten minutes all I wanted to do was leave. Yet Sam seemed to be enjoying himself, so I decided to stick it out. A noble course - but I'm still having flashbacks.
Here's my mini-guide to these situations:
Don't attend while tired (I know you're tired - I mean more tired than usual). You'll need to have your wits about you to save your child from impending Godzilla attacks.
Don't go on your own. Taking a few friends and their kids will make the whole experience less traumatic. You'll have someone to talk to who doesn't want to talk to you about their gynecological issues.
Take a magazine - you can pretend you're reading it and wait for the whole thing to be over.
Think of the beer you'll be drinking later when you've put your kid to bed. It'll carry you through.
Jean Paul Sartre once wrote: 'Hell is other people' - I think he was almost there. For me it's other people, a 200 foot sea monster and the slight whiff of vomit.
The Out of Depth Dad