Wednesday 21 July 2010
Alex James: Three trips to make the perfect summer
I thought we'd get to Legoland early. We arrived just as it opened, like everyone else. Crowds were streaming from the car parks to the turnstiles like at the start of a big match. There was a sense of pandemonium at the entrance and I thought we were in for a full bunfight but panic turned to picnic as soon as we were all inside and under the spell.
It is an almost magical place, Legoland: the perfect Japanese execution of a Scandinavian dream. It glows with supernatural perfection. The site must have been about the same size as the farm, but the whole thing was as ordered and pretty as bonsai.
We hopped on the first thing we saw, a funicular railway that zoomed us to a far-flung corner. The rides were great but I stopped considering the nuts and bolts of the place itself as soon as I realised my children were making me laugh. Their faces were alight and I was in their world having one of the best days of my life. The six-year-old and twin four-year- olds were beside themselves, but not in the wound-up agitated panicky way that Toys 'r' Us and Hamleys provoke. They were just blissfully happy.
I suppose making kids happy for a day is a pretty straightforward proposition. They always know what they want and it was all there. The best bits were unexpected, people in queues being nice to spend five minutes with; stumbling over performing pirates, a show that featured routines as polished and sparkly as Girls Aloud on ITV. Those pirates made being a pirate look like the best job in the world and maybe it is: how nice the staff all were, too. And the best bit happened when it started to rain: the queue for the wet ride disappeared and we stayed on it three times.
It was a day way beyond anything I could possibly have hoped for but if you do want to go, you should go today because the school holidays start tomorrow.
Nothing fascinates us quite like other people
I've taken the whole week off to spend some time with the three little boys and I haven't laughed so much since I was a Gitanes-puffing teenager in Paris.
If you get up in the morning and ask three small boys what they want to do today they will, all three at once, without fail, tell you they want to go shopping, and tell you exactly what they want to buy; but other things they all agree rate highly are Warwick Castle, where we are going tomorrow and the Cotswold Wildlife Park near Burford, where we went on Friday.
The wildlife park is excellent, somewhere we will always come back to.
Again, it must be around the same size as the farm, but another completely different world on a different tangent altogether from the bright colours and giddy accelerations of Legoland: a quintessential English Country House and gardens stuffed to brimming with God's more unusual creatures.
When I think how much effort it has taken to build one extra large greenhouse for my tomato experiments I shudder at the complexity and scope of the wildlife park. There are vast climate controlled hothouses containing whole ecosystems with bats as big as chickens living in them. It's home to everything from penguins to tropical spiders, from lions to bafflingly clever species of insect.
I suppose the most wonderful thing holidays do is bring a wider sense of perspective into our everyday lives. One lap around the wildlife park was enough to remind me that growing tomatoes, even really tasty ones, isn't really that much of a challenge.
Even though the holidays hadn't started it was busy. It's one of those places that works best when it's busy, like Manhattan or The Wolseley because the most interesting creatures of all, you soon realise, are other people.
Kids love premieres, but not because of the film
I haven't seen such good reviews for anything as for Toy Story 3. For some reason the only really good reviews that ever catch my eye are for things that other members of Blur have done.
I'm a "watch it on DVD" person, more than a cinema-goer, but the Leicester Square premiere fell right in the middle of the holiday so I mentioned it to the kids. They all really wanted to go, like crazy. I didn't think they would have a grasp of the concept of premiere – after all more or less everything is new and amazing to them, but the six-year-old was so excited about it that he told everyone we met, from people in queues at Legoland to the man who came to fix the dishwasher.
Well, of course they all loved it. There was free popcorn. The director and producer were there. This is always slightly disappointing because for some reason American movie people all act more like X Factor contestants than the mad geniuses we need them to be. All they ever do when they are given a microphone is thank everybody and say how grateful they are for everything. They should act more like footballers and tell everyone to shove it. Much more entertaining.
Is the film any good? Yeah, it's OK but who wants to go to the cinema in the summer holidays? I'd like to thank Walt Disney for the popcorn but also to suggest there are much more interesting places for children to take their parents this summer.
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