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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Public Accounts Committee found widespread concern among civil servants that they would be victimised if they spoke out about wrongdoing  

Nikileaks explained: The sad thing about the Nicola Sturgeon saga is that it makes leaks less likely

Jane Merrick
New SNP MP Mhairi Black distinguished herself in Westminster straight away when she made herself a chip butty in the canteen  

The SNP adventure arrives in Westminister - but how long before these new MPs go native?

Katy Guest
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?