A Mildly Miffed Letter to a Garden Centre

Dear Sir or Madam

My sons and I were enticed to your garden centre by the promise of a fun Disney-themed treasure hunt that you had advertised on your website. We were looking forward to rooting out Donald Duck from the composted bark mulch or unearthing Olaf from Frozen in the screened topsoil. Or knowing what I know now about your operation, Mickey Mouse sat behind a desk in the management offices.

I checked on your website to confirm that you were open on Bank Holiday Monday. Your website was very helpful. It had your web address displayed on it. The one I just clicked on to get there. It conveniently linked to the same page, presumably in case visitors have a psychotic episode and forget where they are or what they are doing. It seems you specialise in sending your customers on pointless journeys.

It took 40 minutes to get there. When we arrived at the entrance the signals were mixed. Two large signs saying ‘OPEN’ were fixed to the gates, flanking a large industrial padlock which kept the gates firmly closed. Together with the barbed wire spiralled at the top of the gates, and the metal bollards which guarded the front I figured on balance that the garden centre was indeed closed. It did occur then that you had gone out of business, which would make a lot of sense in retrospect.

I now had to break the news to the boys. Their reaction was instantaneous and catastrophic. A kind of awful harmony of screaming, the little one holding a top-line treble scream while the older one belted out a lower bass scream. I didn’t know how to make it better. In the end I appeased my younger son with an apple, which he stuck in his mouth in a workable impression of a roasted pig from Tudor times. They couldn’t comprehend why the Disney fun had suddenly been taken away from them; in fairness neither could I.

I felt it was best at this point to take them somewhere, anywhere away from the garden centre and do what I always do when my children are unhappy. Buy them shit. Immediately. That meant heading to Woking. You can imagine the scale of my problem that the only presentable solution was Woking.

In truth we sort of drifted towards Woking because my sat-nav had packed in. We were sucked into its one-way system. This appears to have been designed by a drug addict with a Curly-Wurly fixation. The giddying sequence of chicanes and hairpins was too much for my younger son, who promptly served up a fresh helping of apple puree.

I can’t blame you for Woking. But I can blame you for us being there. Please make sure that the information on your website is correct. The waste of petrol has an impact on the environment and more importantly my wallet. It’s also a waste of tears. It’s a waste of an apple. And it’s taking the Mickey. And Pluto and Goofy and Minnie for that matter.

I look forward to hearing from you


Bad Dadu

Any good?

Simple Things Become Difficult When You Have a Child and You’re A Bit Rubbish

There’s a nature trail near where we live that we visited recently. There’s more than a hint of asphalt to the trail itself, so it’s more like following a dirt-bike track than a nature trail. The owners of the trail have decided to install scarecrows into various bits of foliage along the pathway. We’ve been there previously and the effect is a bit creepy, particularly as they often cut out pictures of celebrities’ faces and pin them to the bulbous heads of each scarecrow.

They’ve also used a lot of reclaimed industrial unitary like rusted iron girders and old ladders to create bridges, dens and forts. One section features a tunnel system created out of ginormous concrete cylinders, which is reminiscent of the serial-killer’s hideout at the end of the first series of True Detective, which seems particularly grim when the lifeless bodies of Ant and Dec are swinging from a nearby tree.

Still the trail includes a quiz, the question sheet for which is distributed at the farm shop over the road along with a free little pencil, so obviously we were bang up for it. Or I was bang up for it and the boys didn’t have a choice. There’s also a very nice café in the garden centre adjacent to the start of the trail, so we headed over for ciabattas and Penguins to discuss quiz tactics, motivate ourselves for the upcoming challenge and bond as a team. To foster team spirit, the Major donated a tiny shard of Cheddar from his sandwich to me.

The café was unusually busy. It seemed we had inadvertently walked into some jazz. A live band was playing. The quartet was led by a saxophonist with an industry-standard ponytail who parped away at his instrument with great intensity like he was in a smoky, seedy Harlem jazz club and not in a garden centre in Surrey. He was further undermined by his keyboardist who was struggling with putting on a grubby fleece during the bass solo to Fly Me to the Moon.

Towards the end of lunch, the Major was keen to leave. He wanted to inspect the playground facilities and perhaps go through some warm-ups to prepare for the quiz trail. I was still balls deep in a bowl of chips, so we agreed that his mum will accompany him outside and the Minor and I will follow on later. All I needed to do was to pack up the changing bag, put the Minor in his padded romper and then into the sling.

Chips completed I first of all packed up the bag, which I absolutely nailed. I was buzzing after this so I set about cleaning up the detritus underneath the Minor’s high-chair which is resembling a derelict Roman mosaic made of cheese.  Having successfully achieved this, I then made my one critical error. In my jubilation I picked up Minor from his high-chair and gave him a triumphant cuddle. A sensible parent always think three moves ahead.

When I went to put him back in his chair he began to perform a sort of suspended Riverdance in protest. He was clearly enjoying his cuddle. So I fetched him back up and bob up and down a bit like we’re jiggling along to the jazz while I ponder my next move. Eventually I spotted that my wife had left a lone chip in her bowl and I was able to entice him back down into position using the chip as bait.

I now had put on the sling. Putting on a sling is probably like humping a squid, I’m never sure what goes in what hole and it’s ultimately frustrating. It took me about five minutes to achieve this after a tiring amount of twisting and flailing. I was stood stage-left of the jazz band so the sling-struggle in combination with the music probably came across as the world’s least sexy burlesque revue.

The Minor is one year old and probably old enough to be embarrassed by the inadequacies of his dad. But he’d been distracted by another father, an ostentatiously wacky dad in a knitted Gruffalo hat pulling funny faces at him. I wasn’t sure if this was a show of dad-solidarity but I found it uncomfortable.

The next stage of the process is to set up Minor in his snowsuit. By now it felt like the eyes of the entire café were on me, but of course no-one is interested in a malcoordinated man and his son: they have toasted sourdough sandwiches and jazz.

It’s a good job because I had to practise some extreme chiropractic manoeuvres to inveigle Minor into his suit. The booties detached themselves and one of them had fallen in a dollop of mayo that I had failed to clean up. It had all gone to shit. Even the Gruffalo’s Man-Child looked away. Eventually the Minor had been installed. I was a little harassed and perspiring. But we were ready. Ready to enter the lair of a deranged psycho with a penchant for killing light entertainers.

Any good?