The disastrous Winter Wonderland in Milton Keynes got Christmas spot on

It's all about teaching kids that ultimate survival skill - how to bear disappointment

Share

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so disgusted in all my life” said one mother. “We would have had more fun in a frozen puddle,” said another. “This was definitely no Wonderland. It felt like an opportunity to rip off parents who had hoped to have a magical day out with their children,” wrote a third. It was comments like these which forced the Winter Wonderland event in Milton Keynes to close at the weekend, having been open for only two days. The organisers quickly shut down the event’s own Facebook page, but a new group set up by disgruntled attendees wishing to share their stories has since accumulated over 2,000 members. So, clearly there was at least one enjoyable thing about a visit “Winter Blunderland” - the chance to whinge about it afterwards.

It is pantomime season, so you can assume these “disgusted” and “disappointed” parents might be hamming it up a little, but even so the strength of feeling is obvious and slightly baffling. What were they expecting? It doesn’t often snow in December in Britain. It drizzles. So any event advertising a ‘Winter Wonderland’ south of the Scottish borders is bound to be something of an aesthetic disappointment. Grotty grottos, with their seedy santas, their cheap-o decorations, and - if you’re lucky - an alsatian disguised as a reindeer, have in recent years become as much a British Christmas tradition as mince pies and the Queen’s Speech. For every temporary Christmas theme park so dreadful that it makes newspaper headlines, there must be hundreds of others which are just averagely disappointing.

This tradition reached it’s apex/nadir in December 2008 at the now notorious Lapland New Forest, which featured a muddy field in the place of the promised snow, a Santa who smoked cigs on the job and - my favourite - a “tunnel of light”, which consisted of some fairy lights hanging off a tree. After the complaints started rolling in, organiser Henry Mears pleaded his case to the BBC: “We don’t believe we ripped anyone off. What is not here that we haven’t advertised?” That cunning use of the double negative was only temporarily successful in placating angry parents. In 2011 Mears and his brother Victor were convicted at Bristol Crown Court of eight charges of misleading customers. The judge said they had “delivered misery by way of disappointment to thousands of people”.

I know the feeling. One of my most vivid childhood memories involves my dad taking me on a ghost train ride at a local winter fun fair when I was about seven. As the car moved at a creaky pace through the darkness, anticipation mounted. Nothing happened. Then still nothing happened. Then nothing happened again, until eventually a man in jeans, t-shirt and one of those plastic monster masks you can buy for 50p in a newsagents jumped out and sprayed us with a small amount of water from a house plant spritzer. That was it. But then again, I never forgot it.

And when you think about it, that’s what Christmas is all about, really, isn’t it? Not the pagan midwinter festival, not the birth of little baby Jesus, but teaching kids that most important survival skill for life in the UK - how to bear disappointment.

Most of our most treasured festive traditions are best understood as an exercise in courting and then mercilessly extending the disappointment of small children. How else to explain the nice dinner marred by brussels sprouts, the relentless hype for at least six weeks previous (a sure-fire way to ensure that the day itself will disappoint), the lie about Santa which never ends well, and the beautifully wrapped present which turns out to be...another satsuma.

But children are here learning valuable life lessons. The ones who really require our sufferance are those poor parents who, despite being old enough to know better, still annually fork out a fortune in pursuit of the fantasy family Christmas. A recent survey of Christmas shopping habits by a deliveries website found that parents feel compelled to buy an average of 15 presents per child - 15! - and spend around £887 on making the day special - regardless of whether they can actually afford it or not.

Why bother? A little bit of seasonal disappointment for children of all ages is not only healthy, it’s an inevitable part of Christmas. And what better place is there to make your peace with that fact than in a muddy car park - sorry, Winter Wonderland - in Milton Keynes.

Professional boozers, please share your secret

It won’t be much comfort to the A&E staff dealing with drunken revelers this coming weekend, but in one respect at least, British drinkers must have reformed. In a radio discussion yesterday morning to mark the death of fellow actor Peter O’Toole, Sir Michael Gambon, who appeared with O’Toole in the National Theatre’s first production of Hamlet , brushed aside suggestions that O’Toole’s legendary boozing might have held back his career. After all, it wasn’t just actors who regularly turned up to work half-cut in those days – everybody did.

There is a similar collective nostalgia in journalism for a time when heavy drinking and professional competency apparently went hand in hand. In the good old days, or so I’m often told, you could roll off to the pub for 11am, roll back to your desk for 3ish, churn out two Pulitzer prize-winning features in an hour or so and be back on the bar stool for 6pm. That is, assuming you could see your typewriter through the fug of cigarette smoke. I’ve heard many variations on this basic boast, but one thing I’ve never heard is an explanation of how such a thing might be physically possible. Regularly producing quality work while bladdered? Shurley shome mishtake?

Why should MPs know who this lot are?

Lawrence of Arabia, starring the late Peter O’Toole, is the favourite film of our Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron’s favourite band is Mumford and Sons and his favourite TV chef is Nigella Lawson. We know all this because rarely a day goes by without our PM passing comment on some celebrity matter too trivial to make the contents page of Heat magazine. Shouldn’t he have something better to do?

In this context – and no other – I’m comforted by the continued existence of the Tory MP for Mid Sussex Nicholas Soames, whose redoubled efforts at stuffiness go some way to compensate. Not only has Soames reportedly spearheaded the decision to reject a request from One Direction to film their new pop video in Big Ben (quite right too), but according to a Westminster source quoted in the Mirror he’s also “so old-fashioned that he’s probably barely heard of The Beatles – let alone One Direction”.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone