Monday, May 22, 2006


Does three nights away from home count as a holiday? It does when you have a ten month old baby!

Friday saw the Div family heading for Center Parcs in Whinfell Forest. Not the most exotic of locations, but a decent location for a short break.

The drive down went very smoothly despite the inclement weather, and I discovered yet another benefit of the array of gadgets in the new car.

Heading southbound on the M74 we were passed by a white Audi which was fairly whizzing along. Within a few hundred yards I was surprised to find us quickly catching him as he braked sharply in the middle lane.

The reason for his manoeuvre was perched atop a flyover about 1/4-mile ahead. A mobile police speedcam unit.

Fortunately for me the cruise control was dialed in at bang on 70mph. If I'd been driving manually, I'd probably have been scooting along a fair bit faster, and would be expecting 3 points and a fine to be dropping through my letterbox anyday now.

Our abodeUpon arrival at Center Parcs we found ourselves housed in a chalet backing directly on to the surrounding forest, and were soon introduced to our neighbours - a couple of pheasants, who at various times of the weekend were joined by a succession of rabbits, ducks, and a solitary red squirrel.

All of whom kept the baby amused as they loitered outside within easy viewing range.

Which was just as well, since the incessant rain somewhat curtailed our own activity plans.Meet the neighbours

Saturday was very much indoor activities day, as we took the baby for her first ever foray into a swimming pool.

Given her love of bathtime we were hopeful she would enjoy the experience, but still somewhat apprehensive.

We needn't have worried. She loved it. So much so that we made a second visit on Sunday.

Saturday was also my chance to experience for the first time the namby pamby world of the luxury spa, where Mrs Div had booked me in for an 'Executive Combi' - a back, neck, face and head massage.

Which was sheer bliss, and possibly made even more blissful by the fact the masseuse was not just talented and personable, but also extremely pretty.

Slightly disconcerting was the realisation that her name (Kayleigh) and my estimate of her age (twentyish) meant there was a chance her parents were Marillion fans, who had named her after their most famous song - released when I was well through my secondary school years. Yikes, I AM that old!

On the subject of music, I actually found myself watching Eurovision on Saturday night. That's what having no internet access can do to a man.

As Europe fragments into smaller and smaller states, the performances on Eurovision get more and more amusing. This year half the acts seemed to be rip offs of western acts - the Ukrainian Kylie, Croatian Beyonce, etc.

The eventual winners - the Finnish Slipknot.

You absolutely could not make it up!

On Sunday we made the most of a small window of drier weather to go for a lengthy stroll around the camp. During which we discovered the Birds of Prey centre, where a variety of feathered predators were perched in open huts visible from the nearby paths.

Our initial reaction was one of awe, especially at the sight of a huge owl which looked capable of carrying off a small dog.

Watching a few of the birds spread their wings and attempt to fly off, only to be held close to the ground by the tethers around their legs made both of us feel very uncomfortable, and more than a little sad. We didn't loiter.

I couldn't help thinking such amazing creatures deserve a more dignified existence than to be objects of curiosity for human tourists.

As we meandered through a children's playpark, my attention was attracted by an innocuous confrontation between two toddlers, who were play boxing amidst a throng of children and parents.

Suddenly the taller and beefier of the two launched a flurry of bodyshots that would have made Ricky Hatton proud, sending the smaller kid to the ground amidst a torrent of tears.

The aghast parents rushed in to restore the peace, and extract a grudging apology from beefy kid.

I couldn't help but smile, after all boys will be boys, but at the same time I wonder what joys I have to look forward to as our baby grows up.

The mix of customers at the camp was a little surprising. Predictably the majority were family groups, mostly with kids ranging from toddlers to mid-teens, but there were also some small groups of late-teens through to mid-twenties, and even a few couples who appeared to be on romantic breaks.

If I was in either of the latter two categories, Center Parcs would be low down my list of preferred destinations. For the same price, a couple could hop over to Barcelona or Rome for the weekend, rather than spend it trudging around an artificial lake in the Cumbrian wetlands. Each to their own I suppose.

On the whole it was a nice enough weekend.

The facilities were fine, except for the atrocious lumpy beds - another reason to put it low down the romantic break list.

The staff were very good - with the exception of the waiters in pseudo-French bistro Chez Pierre. Sullen, slow, and aloof. Perhaps they were just in character.

We probably went a bit too soon for Baby Div to get much benefit from the facilities - swimming excepted - as it's really more geared towards slightly older kids.

The change of scene was nice, though I doubt we will be rushing back.

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