London - Chessington World of Adventures: it sounds so promising, doesn’t it? A world of adventure - that’s how life should be described, too (or misadventure in my case).
But rather like life, the gap between expectation and reality at Chessington World of Adventures is large. Massive. In fact, it’s a vast canyon of disappointment and disaster (I’m talking about Chessington now, not life).
I don’t know if it was the worst day of my life so far, but I can predict it’ll be in the top five, even if I live to be 210 years old.
Of course, I know it wasn’t Chessington’s fault that a pile-up on the A3 meant we were stuck in a three-hour traffic jam en route. And it wasn’t Chessington’s fault I then got lost on the B-roads while the three offspring I’d brought with me competed for the title “world’s best bickering sibling”.
Obviously, it wasn’t Chessington’s fault that I committed another parental crime to pop in the vault of maternal failures when I bellowed “just shut up” impatiently at the rowing trio (I naively swore I’d never use those words when I first had children).
But I’m a mom so I tried to put a brave face on it when we finally arrived and we trooped up to the entrance.
“We’re here,” I said cheerfully as I handed over more than £100 (about R1 500) to pay for entry. “Don’t tell Dad about all the shouting in the car. Now let’s go and have some fun.”
It wasn’t even Chessington’s fault that my son, aged six, was five millimetres too short for every ride bar one (if only he had bigger hair or wore heels like Prince). But everything else during our God-awful day was Chessington’s fault.
The hour-and-a-half queues (with no loos) for rides, the extortionate fees - at least a fiver per child per ride - for “fast tracking” the queues, the miserable staff, the queue for the overflow car park, the overpriced food and drink, that was all Chessington’s fault. I tried to buy my son an ice cream to make up for missing out on the rides but they’d run out of cones.
Bickering parents wandered around with haunted looks of hopelessness on their faces under low-flying roller-coasters.
Surely there has to be a better (cheaper) way of doing this, I mumbled to myself as I trailed behind my kids like a sulking teenager for what felt like an eternity. We’d survived the journey from hell, only to arrive at hell itself.
I’d been bursting with enthusiasm when I left our house at 8am, full of high hopes of a mid-week family day out (a gift of the school holidays).
And as a working mom I was keen to fill the twilight days of my children’s summer off with precious memories (to distract from the days I am not with them, obviously).
I needed Chessington to be an amazing day, a day to make up for the days I was working and my children were at home with their nanny.
That’s why I was disproportionately disappointed. Even an amateur psychologist could work that out, Bozo (as Gracie-in-the-middle calls me every time I fail to work the remote control). There’s no way a working mom’s day off with kids on school holiday can be a rubbish one - it has to be great, that’s non-negotiable.
It’s the only way to fight the mountain of guilt you feel on the days you’re in the office. On those days my illogical inner voice keeps muttering unhelpfully: “You should be with them”.
And I am for much of their time off, but I chose to have a career and a family so I accept the situation. I don’t think my children will need counselling as a result, but every summer is an emotional roller-coaster.
Mr Candy doesn’t have an illogical inner voice, he doesn’t question things in the same way. He would have been much less disappointed with our day at Chessington (and he wouldn’t have let the kids have as much Coca-Cola as they wanted).
In the car on the way home I felt even more guilty that I hadn’t been more fun for them, and that on the following day I’d be taking them on an end-of-summer chore no one would enjoy.
“We have to go to the uniform shop first thing,” I said quickly when they asked what we were doing.
“Wow,” my son said with no trace of irony. “That sounds fantastic.”
“Really?” I queried.
“Oh yes, I love unicorns,” he said.
I didn’t have the heart to put him right. - Daily Mail
* Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.