London - They say that in space no one can hear you scream, that cries of abject misery, never-ending sadness or mortal fear are lost for ever.
After I endured all of those emotions in West London’s Westfield shopping mall, the phrase in our house now is “in Westfield no one can hear you scream”.
Shopping centres used to be my happy place, damnit. I’ve fond memories of spending my teenage Saturdays in one in Plymouth. And now I enjoy visiting them frequently because I work in fashion.
But I’ve never taken all four of my children to one (on the hottest day of the year) before. I have never been to a Build-A-Bear Workshop birthday party with another family before. And I’ve never felt my will to live drain so rapidly from my body before.
Sadly, all that happened in Westfield on Saturday afternoon.
The moment we stepped out of the lift into this huge palace of rampant consumerism parental mistakes tumbled around me like unlucky dice.
I’d forgotten my glasses (Fool. How would I keep track of all my children?). I’d forgotten to write down the aisle and level we’d parked on (“basic skills, woman” Mr Candy muttered angrily when I told him). It would take hours to find the car.
And my handbag had been surreptitiously filled with all manner of unwanted luggage by the children (scissors, plastic horses, broken sunglasses and the top of a water flask). No purse - that had been removed to make room for the rubbish they wanted me to take on this epic outing. An outing which they’d been so excited about they’d gone to bed early the night before just so it happened quicker (they really should get out more).
As the lift doors opened they ran off in three different directions. Witnessing such extreme excitement moved something in Baby Mabel, one, as she looked on in her buggy - it moved her so much we needed a loo with a baby changing facility pronto.
Mr Candy had a map (of course he did). He knew how to get to Build-A-Bear for the birthday party rendezvous with another family. He knew where the loos were. So we followed Smartypants as he strode off through the sunlit shopping centre pushing the buggy.
He gained speed oblivious to us chasing after him (why do men walk so fast?). I frantically yelled at the children as they hurtled towards sweetie pick-and-mix stalls, make-your-own-cupcake counters and more worryingly a champagne and oyster bar (too soon, my girls - I know I always say aim high, but you are only eight and nine for goodness sake).
We wandered on and on, lost in the giant space, I felt like an Australian Aborigine on a walkabout. This could go on for months. Mabel would be an adolescent by the time we left.
We whizzed past shops I would happily have spent hours in pre-children, finally heading towards a shop so full of children I could feel “one of my heads coming on” as my sister says when a migraine surprises her.
A full circuit of the centre later and we were at Build-A-Bear. Have you been? It’s fun (on any other day except Saturday I would guess). You get to make your own bear, putting a beating heart in it and attaching it’s limp, soft toy body to a giant machine filled with stuffing which you operate via a pedal.
I was so cross with Mr Candy and his know-it-all attitude by this point that I fantasised about a “build-a-husband” workshop.
“One where you take the stuffing out,” he mused sarcastically. See what I mean about him?
Anyway, keeping a tight rein on the fearless trio of trouble is difficult at the best of times so it came as no surprise when Gracie-in-the-middle, eight, lost control of her bear as it was being stuffed.
It flew across the room and fluff shot around the shop as everyone within a ten-mile radius yelled “take your foot off the bloody pedal”. Other parents sighed in sympathy as Gracie laughed her head off, bless her.
Still, it was nearly over and once we’d found the car we could head home.
“That was amazing,” the five-year-old told me as we left. “This place is fantastic.” The children had had a completely different experience from me and, of course, that’s what matters.
“Mom,” my five-year-old son asked, “Is it true that Westfield is so big you can see it from space?” - Daily Mail