Britain: The virtual babysitters

Steve and Julia Newman leave their children in the care of Brighton's cyberspace
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The Independent Travel
The venue

A couple of hours playing computer games on the Internet while your parents go shopping is probably every kid's idea of heaven. Now, in a Nineties version of children's Saturday morning cinema, the E-On Saturday Kids Club, hosted by Surfers @ Paradise, offers supervised surfing for the younger ones.

It's the sort of thing you would expect from Brighton - the town has made a name for itself in New Media circles and is the home to many young media couples and their families. Once your charges are in the care of their experienced "cybersitter", you can stroll out.

Meanwhile, there's quite a buzz as the children tuck into a menu of popular games, chat forums and a real-time magazine to add to. The content of the games and the Internet is screened to make sure that kids are spared any lurid graphics or language, and the staff are all registered child- carers.

With 20 children and six PCs, there can be some fairly interactive negotiations for access but, as many games can support two or three players, the cybersitters don't have too much problem keeping everybody occupied.

The visitors

Steve, a university computer officer and Julia Newman, a bookseller, left their two children Tom, 12, and Kate, eight, alone in cyberspace.

Tom: I'd like to come again. If I wasn't here I'd probably be at home being bored, or I'd be going round the shops with my mum and dad. My favourite games were Dracula and Paws of Fury.

I think they should have more computers - someone on my computer started playing chess. I'd give the club seven out of 10 but I'd only give the milk shake five.

Julia: I think it's an excellent idea - it's the first time for ages that Steve and I have been able to go shopping on our own. I'd definitely do it again. Even if I didn't have shopping to do - just to go and have a coffee somewhere without the children would be nice.

The staff seem very good with the kids and everybody seems to be having fun. You hear a lot of bad publicity about computer games but I would much rather Tom was here than just hanging around town with his mates. Twelve is a difficult age as they want to go off on their own but there are not really that many activities which are suitable.

Kate: I liked playing on the computers and doing drawing. My favourite game was Dracula, with lots of ghosts, and I like racing games. I play computer games at home every day before my homework and I can beat my brother at some of them.

I had vanilla and chocolate milk shake which was very nice, and I liked being left here on our own while Mum and Dad went away. The people were friendly and helped me do the games.

Steve: It meant that we were able to be out in the centre of Brighton early when it was still reasonably quiet. At pounds 5 a head, the club is good value in terms of child care. We couldn't afford it every time we went shopping, though.

The club could be useful in teaching children about the Internet, especially if they don't have access tat home or at school. But I didn't see how much Internet access you get as opposed to games.

The deal

Admission: The E-On Saturday Kid's Club at Surfers @ Paradise, 18a Bond Street. Admission costs pounds 5 per child, including tuition and refreshments. The club is open for eight-to-12-year-olds. Free Internet access with assistance is provided for parents of club members. Booking is essential - 01273 684 184.

Opening Times: Sat, 9.30am-11.30am.

Access: There's a public car park a few yards away. Brighton Station is a seven-minute walk away. Disabled access.

Shopping: Surfers @ Paradise is in the heart of the North Laine area, adjacent to Brighton's famous Lanes. Nearby, the Western Road has all the big retail names. The Palace Pier and Royal Pavilion are also near.

Food: Cafe serves a Pacific Rim menu from an open kitchen, Tues-Sat, 10am-11pm, Sun and Mon 10am-6pm. Snacks (from pounds 1), breakfast (from pounds 1.95), main meals (pounds 4.50-pounds 11.95). All-day menu.

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