The trouble with staying at a child friendly hotel is that you are inevitably signing up to a stay plagued by other people’s children – and lots of them to boot.
It is in this precise scenario that we find ourselves. At first, we revel in the prospect of child-free dinners amongst the civilised sect (aka grown-ups) and no washing up for a week (they have a baby bottle/cup/cutlery washing service, where the soiled goods are deposited in the ‘drop off’ basket, to materialise miraculously, a short time later, spotless, in the neighbouring ‘pick up’ basket). The hotel kitchen will even puree food to order to cater to the discerning palates of the toothless customer and there are enough highchairs in the breakfast room to host a baby G7 conference.
Our suite allows for separate sleeping quarters for the Little One and is equipped with sufficient baby paraphernalia to make Mothercare proud – steriliser, changing mat, nappy bin, baby monitor for a child listening service while the grown-ups indulge in some wining and dining come evening time. There is even a pushchair you can borrow if you couldn’t be bothered to bring your own (or couldn’t cram it into the car). This is Utopia for parents of small children.
The cherry on the cake is that there is a spa, pool and, conveniently, a creche – complete with Ofsted report. I am still beset with reservations about abandoning my one year old to the care of complete strangers but, seeing as our travelling toy stash is more famine than feast, we drop by one afternoon for a quick reccy. And I’m really quite surprised – in a pleasant way. Though the air of tranquility may be more a result of the total lack of any other children present, fighting over toys and causing a nuisance. I consider the option of giving away my child (for a couple of mornings a week) if I can find an establishment like this at home. We return the next day to find a rather sweet little boy called Oliver, who is obsessed with tractors, and a different carer in attendance. She looks beyond bored and when a colleague comes in later it transpires that she doesn’t know/ care/ remember (what’s worse?) the name of the sole child in her care. I make a swift mental U-turn on the intention to abandon Baby-Bel.
It is only at breakfast that it dawns on us that, where we complain about the noise and mess generated by our one sprog at home, here we have that of almost a dozen to contend with. At the breakfast buffet I offer to help a girl of no more than three foot high, with the scrambled eggs. She declines politely enough but when her father offers the same, she turns to him in what can only be descibed as a scarily precocious manner.
‘I’m four remember’, she deadpans (read, ‘I’m not an imbecile’).
Yikes. I am rather taken aback and scuttle back to our table to resume the task of spooning petit filous into the waiting mouth of our comparatively angelic child.
After dinner on the second night, I go to the ‘pick up’ point to collect our array of feeding/ drinking implements, to find that the mother just ahead of me is in the process of walking off with our Tommee Tippee beaker. Fuelled by the courage incited by two glasses of robust red, a kir royale and the giddy excitement of being unleashed to dine amongst the polite society of other adults (a novelty these days), I chase after her and insist that she return what is rightfully ours – stopping short of offering to perform a CSI-style dental bite mould on the beaker spout to prove ownership.
In the cold light of sober day, a two quid Tommee Tippee cup is hardly grounds for a playground-esque bout of fistee cuffs but it occurs to me that being an (ex) banker has put me in good stead for such baby battlegrounds – I am very competitive and (nearly) always win. After all, there’s no point in taking part if you don’t.
I suspect that this is just a taster of the parental politics that beset the war zone of first nursery, then school. I am looking forward, with dread, to dealing with a scenario like that of a friend, whose six year old came home from school one day announcing that she hated a class mate.
‘Because she’s ugly.’
Now that wouldn’t happen in a Utopian world.