Whoever called it soft play has clearly never been to soft play 

Soft play. It sounds so inviting doesn’t it? So alluring. That sounds good, where can I find all of this soft play, you find yourself asking. What a great idea, you think to yourself. Softness. Playing. Happy children. Happy parents. Softly softly, lovely, gentle playing. What could be better than that?

Erm, actually quite a lot of things. 

Having spent a considerable amount of time in soft play centres during the school holidays, and coming to you live from a soft play centre right now, I thought I’d put together a handy guide for those of you fortunate enough to never have been in one.


The first thing that hits you is the smell. Most soft plays will have a cafe with a jaunty name, like ‘jungle cafe’ or ‘coffee stop’. This is a cheerful facade and what lays behind is mostly processed sugar, terrible coffee, E numbers and a host of beige / neon dinner options like potato smilies, sausages and beans, because no kid ever wants anything other than a potato smiley, obviously. Potato smilies need to be cooked fresh from the freezer, so the first thing you’ll smell on entry is processed potato, frying meat and the tang of microwaved beans. If you sniff very carefully, and I advise doing so only with caution, you’ll also catch the faint whiff of broken hopes and dreams of all the parents sat at the little plastic tables. Unless you’re sat near the toilets, in which case all you’ll smell is piss, with the occasional fart or shitty nappy floating by. 

Now for all the salty, sugary, evil goodness, these cafes will charge an exorbitant amount, which you’re forced to pay. There will be little (enormous) ‘polite’ signs scattered around the place informing you that if you dare eat food not purchased from the bankrupt cafe, you’ll be asked to leave, thus wasting the astronomical amount you’ve also paid to get in the place in the first place. So take about £300, because that’s how much you’ll need to get in and keep everyone fed and watered for approximately half an hour.


Cacophony is the only word to describe the noise level in one of the many ‘recreational’ establishments dotted all around the country right now. Adults desperate for a conversation that’s not about fireman Sam, who needs a poo, or who’s a smelly bum head, will be clubbed together in small groups supping on hideously bad coffee or scalding tea tinged with that uht milk taste, trying to get more than a sentence out before being interrupted. Kids will be running amock, screeching like wendigos, and someone’s kid, somewhere in the corner, will be wailing because they’ve just vommed all over the equipment. Add to that the sound of 90’s pop (we’ve got a bit of the spice girls and five going on in the background here) plus the go-karts, arcade games and tannoy announcements (please can all parents remind their children NOT TO CLIMB UP THE SLIDE) and you’ve got yourself a hideous clash of sounds worse than being stuck in a room with a group of beliebers who have just been told Bieber’s got a new girlfriend.


When you first go in, it’s freezing. Air con on full blast, presumably because in about 64 seconds your Beasts will have legged it and be rosy cheeked and sweating from the breathtaking thrill of throwing themselves down some padded stairs or squeezing through giant rollers into a dirty ball pit absolutely infested with bacteria. So the grown ups all sit around in their grown up cardigans, dark circles under their eyes and exhaustion etched on their pale little faces, shivering away. Apart, of course, from that woman who will be in a ridiculously short skirt and tank top, a pair of heels and a full face of makeup, while the rest of us scrubbers make do with our Tesco jeans and faded hoodies, which will inevitably be smeared with something or other. 

Then all of a sudden, with little or no warning, once the place is packed to the rafters and you’ve started to contemplate whether death might be a preferable alternative to never having to do this again, the temperature will rocket exponentially until it’s so hot you’re sure you’ve started the menopause early. 

The kids

You go to a soft play center with the idea that your little darlings are going to run off to play, maybe make a friend or two while they’re doing it, and everyone will have a lovely time. If your kids do this, then lucky fucking you because my kids must get together beforehand, fist bump and whisper “thug life forever” at each other before barelling in there like wrecking balls. We’ve had barging, shoving, pinching, arm twisting, biting, and even an attempted gouging. Not all on the same day, but they’ve all happened. Now you might be saying ‘clearly you’re not an effective enough parent’ and you’re probably right, but they’re not called Beast 1 & 2 for nothing, and it’s near on impossible to get up in those structures quick enough to stop a swift poke in the eye, especially if you’ve had one too many (packets of) biscuits like me and are not thin as a rake. I don’t want to be that headline on the front of The Sun which reads ‘OBESE WOMAN GETS STUCK IN CHILDREN’S SLIDE AT SOFT PLAY AND HAS TO BE CUT FREE’. It’s also not just my children (hopefully) that get a bit ‘Handsy’ so when you put them in a room all together, fill them with sugar and fruit shoots and let them loose, someone’s getting a swift kick for hogging the giant Lego. Think of it like anarchy in a tiny army wearing Thomas the Tank pants and adjustable waist trousers, if you will. The word savage doesn’t even come close. 

You’ll also, if you’ve taken multiple children, stand up approximately every 2 minutes and say: “wait, hang on, where did the other one go?” Narrow eyes and try to identify your beast out of a whole herd of beasts. See the top of a head, which you’re certain belongs to your beast, and sit down again.

The other parents and guardians 

“Er excuse me, EXCUSE ME? Is that your child over there?” 
Avoid eye contact, put phone down, glance over, say “gosh no, I think his parents are over there” and point vaguely in any direction that’s away from you. Then spend the rest of your stay having to pretend your kid isn’t your kid. Awkward. 

Inevitably, all the time spent playing with them or sat watching them like a hawk from the hard, uncomfortable plastic chairs, will be rendered completely pointless by the moment you decide they’re playing quite nicely so you’ll look down at your phone for a few minutes and make good use of the free wifi. This will always be the moment one of your beasts does something, and the keeper of little Rufus (who to be fair, was being absolutely ghastly and probably deserved to be rugby tackled down the slide) decides that you’re the shittest person in the world for not propping your eyes open with little sticks and staring at your beasts the entire time. 

The cost 

“Just stand up against that little measuring stick for me…that’s right… Oh look how big you both are! That’ll be a million pounds please. Oh and just remember you have to only eat food purchased here, so as you’re going to be here all day to make the most of the million pounds entry tariff, you’ll probably want another million if you don’t plan on starving.” *sweet smile*
By the time you’ve left, you’ll be considering making a phone call to the bank so you can talk about remortgaging your home just to afford another trip to soft play. 

Despite all of these things, you’ll keep going back. Mostly just for the opportunity to sit down for five minutes and know your beasts are completely contained so although you might have to deal with some moderate violence, offensive smells, clashing sounds and the odd spot of bankruptcy, it beats sitting at home trying to stop them beating the crap out of each other (and your house.) 

We also go back because The Beasts adore soft play and I do like to give myself a pat on the back for being an awesome fucking parent. So although you shouldn’t be fooled by the false advertising that is ‘soft play’ – more like ‘hunger games in a warehouse’, once you’ve started, you won’t be able to stop. So I guess the next time you do go, the only thing to do is wish you luck. And a lottery windfall to pay for it. May the odds be ever in your favour. Godspeed. 

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They’re not homeless, I promise 

Beasts come with various needs, and trying to convince them to do anything for themselves is often more trouble than it’s worth – and a perfect waste of wine drinking time, so it usually falls to mummy to keep them clean, generally well,  clothed and  fed. Unless mummy loses her shit and insists daddy does it because mummy’s about to go all Britney in the mid 2000’s.  I know I should be encouraging independence with my little monsters, but one has only so much patience  (anyone who has ever met me will confirm I have an especially small amount) before the homicidal rage / desperate frustration kicks in & I just have to intervene and do it for them. On the occasions where we throw caution to the wind and let them do things for themselves we end up 5 hours late with children that look like nobody owns them, with clothes on inside out and mismatched shoes, dirty faces and hungry bellies where no one’s eaten any dinner. 

Such simple things for an adult to do, or even a child who is not Beastly could manage perfectly fine. My children, as you know, are beastly, so:

Nose Blowing:

A task that is necessary when snot invades as mummy can’t handle crusty green slime all over noses. Or that noise they make when it’s about to drop out and they hock it back like they’re doing a line of cocaine. So when it’s time to blow, we end up with mummy holding a tissue in place and saying “just blow from your nose, not your mouth – no, no, not out of your mouth, you need it to come out of your nose…oh for god’s sake how hard is it to just blow your nose…keep your mouth closed…ok stop stop stop you’re covering me in spit” for about 5 minutes until just giving up and accepting that they’re going to keep snorting back boogers or letting nasal phlegm slide down their faces for the next week.  

Teeth brushing:

“open up, no don’t bite it please. Come on just….ahhhh….bit more….yes I know it’s minty, no I don’t think you can get chocolate flavour toothpaste…well just because people like mint ok? Look, the more you try and complain about the toothpaste the longer this will take” 

“Ok good now spit – wha – not all over the wall! Get it in the sink! In the sink! Rinse it away please – alright you can turn the tap off now. Turn it off now. TURN IT OFF NOW YOU’RE GOING TO FLOOD THE WHOLE HOUSE” 

Every. Single. Day. Morning and night. 

Hair washing: 

Given the amount of fuss my Beasts make about a simple hair wash you’d be forgiven for thinking they were being water boarded, not just having the encrusted food, dirt, glitter, glue and everything in between removed from their hair. Sometimes mummy actually closes the window before operation hair wash commences just so that good citizens walking past don’t mistake the hysterical shrieks for abuse and call the police on us.

Bum wiping:

You know you’re a parent when the sound of a cheerful “FINISHED” fills you with a sense of dread and a vague urge to vom. Plus having to buy those fancy toilet wipes; how is it impossible to get a child’s bum clean using regular old dry bog roll and yet  adults manage perfectly fine? That’s an ‘in the shower’ thought right there for you. You’re welcome. 

Giving medicine:

“Ok so he just needs these absolutely disgusting antibiotics 4 times a day for the next week, an hour before food or on an empty stomach.”

1. Stare at doctor in disbelief

2. How many times a day?

3. An hour before food or on an empty stomach? All they do is eat. All the time.

4. It tastes like dirty dishwater 

5: It looks like Kung po sauce when it’s all cold and congealed the next day  because you were too lazy to wash up the take away tub the evening before 

5. There’s no way this is possible 

In an effort to get the medicine in, mummy finds herself trying threats: (there will be no grandma’s EVER AGAIN). Bribes, wheedling, begging; (sob into hands – please just take the medicine). Outright lies; (it’s calpol I swear), wild promises; (I’ll get you a pony) and mixing it into yogurt (they’re not idiots, that never works). Ends up pinning them down and squirting it at the back of their throats out of that little calpol syringe and feeling deeply unsatisfied about the hollow victory. Cries a bit when they puke it back up three minutes later. 

Nail clipping:

Amid frantic cries of “don’t chop my toes off mummy!” And “don’t mummy! I need my nails! I NEED THEM!” – dodging sharp bits of childrens’ dirty nails flying at you to avoid taking a hit in the eye should be considered an Olympic sport. It takes some real skill to avoid shards of nail hurtling straight towards your face whist still gripping said toes or fingers to get the clipping over and done with as quickly as possible. 


If I had a tenner in my bank account for every time one of my children put their clothes on the first time they were asked to put their clothes on, I’d be overdrawn. In fact I’m always overdrawn, so that was a pretty pointless anecdote.

Anyway, as it is, I end up shouting ‘arms in’ ‘feet in’ ‘legs in’ ‘head in’ OH FOR PETE’S SAKE WILL YOU PUT YOUR ARMS IN like a lunatic whilst trying to get the garments over various body parts and limbs, all of which at that moment have gone ‘floppy like a fish mummy ahahahaha’ – a floppy fish which then takes mummy’s eye out with a well aimed toe or finger.

“Oh and who’s Pete mummy?”

“Don’t worry about Pete. Just get your shoes on. Over there, where they always are. WELL IF YOU CAN’T MANAGE TO GET THEM ON YOUR FEET I GUESS YOU’LL HAVE TO GO BAREFOOT”

Blowing food:

I seem to have ended up with deficient children who can find plenty of breath and spit to blow raspberries in your face, with extra enthusiasm when being asked to stop blowing raspberries, and enough hot air to complain incessantly about everything, and yet can’t find enough puff to blow on a hot fish finger before eating it. This results in soggy orange chunks being spat out dramatically whist beast in question yells IT’S TOO HOT! BLOW IT MUMMY, BLOW IT! 

Bonus points if you’re sniggering at “blow it” (Stop it, you.)

Sun cream:

The only way to describe it is wrestling a slippy octopus and getting thick white cream (steady) all over your best jeans* and knowing it won’t come out in the wash. 

*and by best, I mean the only ones that fit 


“Right everyone needs to wash bums, willies and faces please. No, just – do your faces first please – oh god – no not your bum first…hang on, mummy will do your face, you do your bum…no mummy’s not doing your bum too, bums are private…ok yes you can stop bending over now…stand back up please” *averts eyes* 

Sometimes, given the list above, my biggest achievement in a week will just be that we all got out the house on time & nobody cried doing it, and everyone is clean, presentable, fully dressed, not covered in grub, with shoes on the right feet. Two shoes the same, not two different ones.

 Well I’m pretty sure that’ll be my biggest achievement, because I don’t think it’s happened yet 🤔

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Sorry, Colin 

Spend 8 minutes 36 seconds on hold to the Gas company  – during this time The Beasts are so quiet and well behaved I have to poke my head round the door to check they’re still alive. 

Call connects. 

“Good afternoon you’re through to Colin, how can I help today?”

“Oh hi there Colin I’m just ringing to check on our tariff, I had a letter through the post about it?”

*bored sounding* “what’s your account number?”

“Oh, er, I have it here. It’s 476…” 

(Hysterical screams from the other room) “Mummy!! MUMMY! OSCAR’S PINCHING ME, MUMMY HELP, HELP!”

“Sorry Colin, one sec” – dash into room to find beast 1 completely at the mercy of beast 2 in a headlock.
(Still holding phone) “oh for goodness sake Jasper, you’re 5, just push him off and tell him to stop- Oscar leave your brother alone please. Just go and find something to do that doesn’t involve beating each other up. Jesus.” *shakes head*

Physically seperate beasts & return to kitchen. 

“Sorry Colin, here’s the rest of the account number.”


“Ok Mrs Patterson if you could just confirm a few security details – what’s your postcode and date of birth?”

“Yes it’s – (muffled yells) what’s that? What? You’ll have to speak up, what are you saying? A poo do you need?”

*sounds concerned and rather alarmed* “Erm no I’m ok right now thanks Mrs Patterson, if you could just give me those details and we’ll get you through security?”

“What? Oh sorry Colin, I wasn’t asking you if…oh never mind. Right, postcode and date of birth, there you go.”

“Ok and what’s your monthly payment?”

“It’s about seventy -” *beast 2 tapping leg persistently* *glance down to see a felt tip pen in his hand & immediately feel intense trepidation.* “where did you get that pen? Where did you find that?”

“Sorry Mrs Patterson? My pen? Just erm…out of our cupboard?”

“Huh? Oh, God, no not you Colin, sorry, hang on”

*primly* “No problem” (clearly the biggest problem in the world) 

“Give me that pen please Oscar, have you drawn on anything?” 

Enter dining room to see red scrawl all over the vinyl floor. Drop urgently to hands and knees and start rubbing with a baby wipe (which is how I do all of the cleaning) to remove before Daddy beast gets home. Can’t be bothered with the lecture about how they were clearly left unsupervised and have to listen to the angry Irish man muttering about “what’s the bloody point paying for nice things in this house if those little shits just draw all over them?” 

“Mrs Patterson? Your monthly payment?”

“Oh. Yes. Right. £76.”

“Ok that’s security completed, so you just want to check your tariff? Have you checked online to see what our current deals are?”

“No, Colin, I haven’t: all I want to do when I’m online in the 10 minutes I get to myself a day, is stalk people on Facebook and watch clips of cats falling off things; I don’t know which tariff is best so I just want you to tell me if there’s a cheaper one please.”

“Right then, ok, let’s have a look. When do you use most of your energy?”

“I don’t have any energy left Colin. I have two small children that may as well be called Satan 1 and Satan 2. All my energy got used a long time ago.”

“Oh – er – no…I meant like, your electricity and gas? Because that’s what you’re calling about?”

*awkward pause* *clear throat and pretend I knew that all along*

“Oh, ha ha, yes I was only joking Colin, we use it pretty much all the time because my little angels can’t leave the tv, lights, fridge, oven, plug sockets or microwave alone. And they eat constantly and need hot baths every day just to get rid of the grime where they’ve rolled in mud or smeared food all over themselves, so we use quite a lot of gas too to cook the food and heat the water.”

“Right, um, ok, well you could try a tariff called -”


“A tarrif called -”

“Yes just hold your horses a second there Colin, I’m just a bit busy right now.”

“Well…you did call us…so…Erm….usually that means you’re available to talk…”

“Yes alright Colin (sassy pants) just hang on a sec, I’m pretty sure you’re being paid to sit there and talk to me, no one’s paying me to be here you know”

(Call up the stairs with phone still attached to ear) 

“Wipe your own bum please, and wash your hands! And don’t put a whole roll of loo roll down there again either, you blocked the pipes last time” 

Meanwhile: the other beast has found the remote and turned the volume of postman pat up to an unbearable level so we can all hear what a shit postman pat is because he’s lost yet another package and secretly fancies Mrs Goggings.

*laughs uncomfortably* “look, er, Mrs Patterson…you’re clearly otherwise engaged right now, could I suggest that you call us back later when it’s *ahem* a quieter time for you?”

“Oh ho, oh no you don’t Colin. I just spent (exaggerates wildly) half an hour on hold trying to get through to you. We’re doing this now.” *sits wearily at table*

*forced cheeriness* “Sure. Well you could try our tarrif called -”

Beast 2, sensing both weakness and opportunity, scrambles up to the table faster than you can say ‘do we have any wine’, and announces: “I TALK TO DADDY NOW MUMMY”

“No no no it’s not daddy, no it’s Colin about the electricity and -”

Grabs phone, yells “BYE DADDY LOVE YOU” into it then presses the disconnect button. 

Looks at me like: 

*postman pat theme tune plays for the twenty millionth time while mummy wonders how easy it would be to fake own death* 

Guess I’ll just stick with the tariff I’m on then. 🤔

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