When I crashed headlong into the pit of balls at the foot of a twisting slide later that night, I realised why I had chosen to become a child again. The night before, the tip of my mouse cursor was poised above the advert. It displayed the technicolour sketch of a child’s soft play centre. The enclosure was braided with winding slides and tunnels, each leading to ravines that brimmed with miniature softballs. The slogan garnishing the sketches read ‘Release your inner child in our giant
indoor play area. Strictly over 18’s only.’
I was gazing at the advert, recalling how only moments ago I had been attempting a crossword in slippers while a repeat of A Place in the Sun played in the background. The situation was desperate. I jabbed the ‘Going’ button and prepared to slosh as much Red Bull down my throat as I could. Getting old wasn’t an option.
When I arrived at the Playzone adult’s night, I encountered a number of anachronisms that left me questioning how old I was for the rest of the evening. I was asked for my ID at the entrance to the child’s soft play centre. The last time I had entered one of these I remember smiling at the lady slouched at the welcome desk while a rivulet of the Capri Sun I’d been sipping dribbled down my chin.
I wondered which version of me the beefy security guard would find most challenging. My jaunty seven year old self, or the eighteen year old desperately seeking the slides in an attempt to prove
his youth. The play centre was almost everything I remembered it to be. The grating of spongy rubber mats against bare skin. The way the slides singed marks into your lower back and dragged
your underwear cripplingly far up your behind. The crunch of the balls when tumbling into the pits. The way rope ladders burrowed into the fleshy pad of skin under your socks. The itch of clothes plastering against skin, abetted by the sweat trickling from your brow in the euphoric search for hiding friends.
Though my descriptions makes this ‘soft’ play centre sound more like an elaborate torture chamber, please understand that these sensations are nothing more than obstacles to a child. The chafing of skin and bruises blooming on forearms are inconsequential, when compared to the ardent efforts a child makes to win a game of Stuck in the Mud. As I clattered against the walls that reminded me of kneaded dough, it felt like stirring from the clutches of a chronic slumber.
Our days are cemented together by routines that involve sagging our bodies over computers and plugging in our details to the nearest Uber or takeaway service. Indulging in the primal urge to climb over everything and throw my body around a network of obstacles was the release from adulthood I needed. It helped me to dust off those feelings of careless bliss. When groping our way through the nebulous fog of maturity, it’s important to take the time to be youngsters again.
At the Playzone event I looked around at the faces soaked in enjoyment. They were blended
somewhere between adolescence and adulthood in age. Yet in this setting, you could see the child shining beneath the made up faces and the stubble. As Walt Disney proclaimed, “Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.”