Jacob and Max play spy games
Crazes come and go in my house. I have variously lived through my sons' undying devotion to Bob the Builder, Ben 10 and Star Wars, but the current obsession is Rowan Atkinson's latest comic creation, buffoon spy Johnny English. To celebrate the launch of the latest DVD, Johnny English Reborn, I decided to give my boys a chance to try their hand at becoming special agents for real, if only for a few hours.
Driving to the secret location (read a barn in a big field a few miles outside Milton Keynes) I wondered if it had been chosen as the 15 roundabouts you have to traverse in quick succession to get there would surely fox any foreign agent sent to uncover it.
I think our first mission was to simply find the place, though Jacob, eight, entered into the spirit of the thing, reading off the cryptic directions and spotting signposts to lead us to our destination.
Johnny English makes his moves
When we arrived at Spy Games to take part in their Johnny English Kids Spy Camp, the boys were beyond excited as they spotted the shooting range with human shaped targets – just like in the movies. Camps similar to this one start on 3 March and can cater for up to 72 children, though I was assured they are always broken down into smaller, more manageable groups.
That said the guys who run the Spy Camp didn't have too much trouble grabbing the attention of the four boys in attendance. They had them from the moment they unboxed the bugging devices and secret cameras. All the experts who run the camps are ex-forces with experience working in intelligence, which gives the camp a realistic edge.
The boys, aged from six to 11 (though normal camps are aimed at 10-16 year-olds), were gripped by all the talk of gathering covert intelligence, planting tiny mics and foiling terrorist bomb plots. Never have I seen a young, male audience sit so rapt. Even Max, the youngest at six, sat still for most of the demo of cameras hidden in smoke detectors and infra red recording devices.
Jacob strikes a pose with a rifle
It really is little, or indeed, big, boy heaven as spying secrets are spilled. But the leaders real life experience is what gives it the edge. Dave Thompson, who set up Spy Games in 2002, is ex-Army and also runs a private investigation business.
Our guide for the day, James, told us how he is leaving soon to take up a day job providing security on board ships in the Gulf of Eden to protect them from attacks by Somali pirates. These men aren't just playing at spying, they are the real deal, which is what makes them so compelling.
Next up was a code breaking exercise where the boys had to use their deciphering skills to defuse a 'live' bomb. The older boys threw themselves into the task, getting quite snappy with me when I began to count down how many seconds they had left before we were all blown to smithereens.
The only casualty was Max who fell for the hype and was in tears as he thought we really were about to be blown up. This is probably the reason the real camps are targeted at older children.
Rowan Atkinson as Johnny English makes some dodgy moves
The next activity was a laser maze, where the boys had to successfully navigate their way through a web of laser beams inside a pitch black container filled with smoke. The idea was to make your way through as a team without breaking a beam and setting off the alarm. This proved a bit much for our motley crew, but they had fun trying.
The final activity was to make your way through a fake mine field while blindfolded. I suspect this works better with an older audience who actually enter into the spirit of the thing and wear their blindfolds. Our boys all made their way through the bombs with suspicious ease.
Normally the camp would include target practice with sniper rifles, but much to the boys disappointment they couldn't do this because they were too young. Though they had a lot of fun striking disturbingly macho poses with the disarmed guns.
Despite his tears over the bomb disposal exercise, Max declared the Spy Camp one of the best days of his life, while my ever-critical eight-year-old said he would give it three out of four, which I can assure you is high praise indeed. It only missed out on top marks because he was unimpressed by the mine field's lack of real danger.
Overall Kids Spy Camp is a perfect way to indulge any budding secret agent's desire to try out living dangerously for an afternoon. The realism of the experience more than makes up for the slightly ramshackle setting and out of the way location.
Kids Spy Camp runs from 3 March and costs £49 per child for a three-hour experience. It is suitable for children aged from 10-16. For more information call 0845 1303 007 or visit www.spy-games.com
Johnny English Reborn is released on Blu-Ray Triple DVD by Universal priced £19.99.