Is it possible to go to a single ‘child friendly’ day out in Britain that does not offer face painting? Harry Wallop decries a generation of parents who believe the entire world must centre around their children’s needs.
There are not many times that I seriously consider committing mass murder. But I came perilously close when standing in the Orangery restaurant of Kew Gardens on a bank holiday, trying to find a table at which I could eat my overpriced Peyton and Byrne coronation chicken sandwich.
Peyton and Byrne, if you are not aware of this catering establishment, is the Flat White generation’s canteen of choice. The company has the contract at the British Library and serves spelt, quinoa and £34 fig rolls to underpaid authors struggling with their roman à clef. And people wonder why the publishing industry is struggling.
I digress. My issue was not the P&B lunch. It was the lack of tables.
There was a simple reason for this: the monumental sense of self-entitlement that the vast majority of customers possessed. And all of these customers were parents.
I was already in a foul mood after having had to queue for 25 minutes to get into Kew, while watching a stream of smug families with pre-booked tickets and annual passes stroll on in. Then, we had tried but given up on the Shaun the Sheep Easter Egg hunt because it required having a leaflet stamped in six separate locations around the gardens. Fully stamped, you swapped your leaflet for a chocolate egg – but at every one of the six stamping points there was a lengthy queue.
Queues at Kew were starting to get me down.
Then we had to queue for our lunch.
But this was not the final wait. No, there was further pain to come: trying to find a spare table. This should have been a moderately simple task. The Orangery is an impressively large space, with enough seats for all those buying food (give or take). But it was full of parents trying to enact Ben Elton’s most famous rant: “Gotta get a double seat” or, in this case, a full table for six.
They were using scarves, anoraks, spare toddlers and tray-loads of passive aggressiveness. There was no food in front of them. Oh, no. The men had been sent by their wives to bag a table while they sourced the food.
The selfishness of securing a table before you have bought your food is one thing. But what makes it so much worse is the attempt to justify your bad behaviour by claiming that parents have some sort of special privileges over and above other diners. Of course, Oscar and Skylark MUST have their lunch.
I hovered aggressively (not so passively) over some bagseed tables to no avail. And dreamed of bombs falling on the acres of glass roofs.
All of this – the lack of consideration, the queues, my murderous mood – was caused by one simple, and fairly new concept: namely, a generation of parents who believe the entire world must centre around the needs of them and their children, a belief fuelled by a leisure industry desperate to pander to the family pound.
It is writ large at theme parks, but I was hoping that the Royal Botanic Gardens might have been aloof from all of this nonsense – from the rubberized playgrounds and kids value meals, from the movie tie-ins and the endless face painting. Is it possible to go to a single ‘child friendly’ day out in Britain that does not offer face painting?
It is an activity designed almost entirely for the benefit of the parent, snapping away on their SLRs to capture darling Ottilie made up as a butterfly – not for the benefit of child, who after all cannot see the results.
There is now a cohort of children who do not know anything other than ‘all eyes on me’. A world of snack pots, backpack trails and bloody, incessant face painting.
We eventually escaped the Orangery and the Creepers and Crawlers indoor play centre.
Then we discovered Kew was great fun. Away from the queues and kids zones, to my immense relief and satisfaction, the children started to enjoy, well… the trees and flowers.
Not because they are some paragons of perfection, keen on self-education. Far from it. But sometimes, children are able to dig up interest and fun in the world around them. And Kew, as at so many of these wonderful places, has plenty to offer the curious.
We, as parents, need to trust our children to turn over a few stones before they find something worthwhile rather than dole it out to them on a pre-packed, face-painted plate.Harry Wallop is a features writer at the Daily Telegraph and its Dad of Four columnist. He has four children aged 12, 9, 7, and 3. He can never remember any of their birthdays. Follow Harry on Twitter @hwallop