Play Village of the Damned

Jeffrey Kluger once said, “kids are anarchy writ large”. And if you’ve ever taken your offspring to a children’s play village, that’s exactly what you’ll witness: the complete breakdown of order. A festival of chaos.

I should start by saying that I really like [efficiently run, well-maintained, and clean] play villages. Children can fully immerse themselves in a role-play environment, dress up in various costumes, and let their imaginations run wild. We even visited one while on holiday in Gorleston-on-Sea last year, when the unseasonably cold, drizzly weather scuppered our plans to hit the beach. A photo from that day shows my eldest son dressed as a vet with a look of complete disdain on his face, while apparently fisting a sick tortoise back to health. It was during that play session that I also excoriated someone’s thuggish child for trying to carjack my son.

The local play village that we go to always starts serenely enough. The children sit down on the ‘village green’, songs are sung, hands are clapped, and the Play Makers (who I greatly admire for their effort and commitment) tantalise the children with news of some of the special activities to come. From that point on, though, the place becomes a B-movie set, where an idyllic village is crop-dusted with a strange neurotoxin, sending its hitherto peaceful inhabitants batshit crazy.

There were Christmas post boxes in the village when we last visited, which I noticed had extremely narrow slits. That’s almost certainly a deliberate design feature to prevent children from posting a crab from the supermarket, or seeing if they can squeeze an entire Girl’s World head from the beauty salon through the opening. They were anticipating disorder.

I tried to absorb what was going on around me when I was there. For instance, a couple of boys dressed as firefighter arsonists spent the entire play session running around throwing felt flames from a campfire into various buildings, shouting “FIRE!”. (For reasons unknown, one of them had a Dalmation from the vet’s surgery draped over him like a latter-day Roman Veles.) It took a spirited girl from the Post Office to put an end to their reign of terror. She hurled the flames right back at them, before sternly saying: “OUT!”. The boys’ emasculation was palpable.

At the vet’s surgery, I was nearly hit in the head by a lizard that had been flung across the room by a slapdash amateur veterinarian. While over at the fire station, a little girl – only a word away from being a budding Mrs Slocombe – burst in, shouting: “Someone’s trying to kill my kitty!”

Next door, at the doctor’s surgery, play-acting parents and grandparents presented with a variety of poorly knees and slight coughs, which were often treated with heavy-handed injections directly into the face, or a defibrillator charge to the affected area.

Even my son wasn’t immune to the craziness. At one point, he hoicked a baby out of a toy pushchair and replaced it with his Jellycat monkey, before running around the village shouting “Monkey baby! Monkey baby!”. The ejected baby was left face down on the village green next to a trout, which looked like a baffling and disturbing Midsomer crime scene.

Elsewhere, one disruptive idiot child spent the whole play session pointlessly trying to throw plastic bananas onto the shops’ Dutch canopies. Why? Who the fuck knows?! The one thing the Play Village is missing is a police station. But had there been one, perhaps with a well-stocked armoury of Melissa & Doug tasers, I might have dressed up and played at taking him down. The little shit.

I ended the session sitting in the Play Village theatre with my youngest son. As I re-attached the velcro fastening of his coronation robe for the umpteenth time, an awesome little girl jumped on stage and announced that she was the fearsome pirate ‘Redbeard’, upon which she began throwing imaginary handfuls of slime and rotting fish at me. I played along with some of my best reactionary mime until the Play Makers announced that they were about to play the ‘Tidy Up Song’ – the trigger music that instantly restores order.

From that point on the children dart about returning everything to its rightful place, while I obsessively ensure that all the parcels are in the correct pigeonholes in the Post Office. If I don’t do that and then flick a light switch on and off four times, people will die.

Once tidy, everyone comes together on the village green; peace is restored, sanity returns, hands are clapped, and goodbyes are sung.

If only we could reset the nation so easily.

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