Don't get me wrong, as a family we don't live in a gleaming palace of a house - far from it - and I know we do not have hundreds of children traipsing through our home (although it can feel like that at times) but a basic bit of tidying up and wiping down can make anywhere feel clean, can't it?
The place holds about 2,000 children - or at least it feels like it does!
The climbing frame in this place is lovely but the first problem arose for me yesterday in that N, who is 22 months, wanted to follow S around the big play part. Of course she is too small for this but that wasn't about to stop her - not with mum in tow! Off we all went. Remember these places are designed for children - not adults - so some of the areas were quite a squeeze in/through/over/on. Fortunately there were quite a few mums and dads having to endure this so I didn't feel too alone up there. I did feel very hot though. I had forgotten how much heat a mass of children can generate in a large warehouse style structure. I was positively 'glowing' by the end of my first pass-through. After the second one, I said to S that she can play with her older friends on the main frame and I would go to the smaller, baby one with N and off we went. Phew!
Now, if you've ever been to one of these places, you'll know when I say that I am so glad that N is past the point of wanting to put things in her mouth. The thought of her doing any such thing here would have me running, screaming for the Dettol.
The baby area was dirty. Not just a bit grubby, but really quite grotty. Every piece of equipment seemed to have something black or brown stuck to it. One of the rocking horses was no longer beige but more...well, poo coloured. Not pleasant to look at and I wasn't about to sniff it.
When the main character, Jake, came out for a dance, sadly I was not in the least bit surprised to see that the costume was as filthy looking as it was at the last party we came to around a month ago. Surely it wouldn't hurt the staff to put the outfit into a washing machine at the end of a day and make it look clean? They must have a spare surely in case part of him tears or falls off? He also greets the party children and poses for photos with them cuddling him (arghhhhhhh) but quite a few of us parents didn't want our children to go near Jake or hold his hand as he looked just so, well, unclean. All he needed was the bell.
We headed upstairs to the party room. The tables had been laid out with appropriate coloured plastic clothes and party hats. The girls all sat down. A few parents had little ones and there were quite a few highchairs around. Natasha wanted to sit in one (heaven knows why) and so I went to get one for her. Of the three that were on my side of the tables, every single one had a dirty tray and seat. Now bearing in mind highchairs are often used for younger children who will eat off the tray, would it not have been appropriate for the staff to give them a wipe down before any party arrived? The seats were full of crumbs and other bits and pieces. If you lean the highchair forward you can bang those bits out that you can then sweep/hoover up or just use a damp cloth again to get them out. It's not rocket science here folks. This is a play centre for 'children' so shouldn't the staff know just a smidge about cleanliness? Every parent with a smaller child had them sitting on their laps. That says it all.
The sofa and chairs that were in the area away from the tables were - to put it mildly - rank. They were sticky and just plain dirty. I realise that children with all sorts of food on their hands are likely to be on and off of them but they weren't material that was difficult to clean, just faux-leather so again, a wipe down with a damp cloth would have done the trick.
When you are charging £4.50 for a young child and £5.50 for an older child to go play in one of these places and asking even more for a party, what can possibly be the reason for not being capable of wiping a bit of seating and some trays down and making them look nice and clean? The staff are not that busy that they cannot spend ten minutes doing this simple task.
As for me, well I won't be back until we have to go to another party there which, with any luck, will be never.