The cost of London living

So up early yesterday to make an Olympic style dash to the train station so we could make an Olympic journey across country on the train with an Olympic number of gadgets to keep the kids amused, spending an Olympic amount of money in the process, all so we can babysit for my sister-in-law while she and her fiance go off to the Olympics tomorrow.

What does that make us? That’s right: Olympic suckers. Gold medals without question.

Seriously, it is the least we can do after they have put me up all the time I’ve been working in London. And the kids love spending time with their little cousin. Perfect excuse, really.

But after having almost two weeks at home in Cornwall, I can’t say I’m overly enamored with the city this time round. We’re always spoilt with a bit of a breeze when it’s hot. Here, as we made our way to some soft play centre in Muswell Hill, it was absolutely sweltering. No-one wants to say it after we’ve had such an unsettled summer for fear of seeming ungrateful and moany, but I will – it’s almost too hot.

Anyway, it’s not so much the weather that struck a nerve with me, but the soft play centre itself. It was the wife who brought it up while we sat watching the kids on the bouncy castle in the garden area.

‘We’d probably be at the beach now,’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ I replied whimsically, though secretly thinking of the thing that always gets me cross about going to the beach: when we have to pay three or four quid to park for the day.

At least we hadn’t been shafted with the parking fee, I thought.

Only then it occurred to me – a little slow off the mark because my sister-in-law had paid for us to get in – but it had cost £13.50 to get into the soft play centre. Not the best soft play centre in the world, but certainly not the worse, so long as it is sunny. Maybe you pay extra when it’s sunny, I don’t know.

But at least when you pay three quid or so to park your car at the beach, it’s free. Yes, there are cafes that may stitch you up for a cup of coffee, but to be honest a bag of chips and an ice cream is usually enough to keep the kids going all day. And besides, at least when you go to the beach, you can take your own food along. No matter how discreetly and quietly you open that packet of Goodies crisps at your average soft play, you’ll set off the radar of one of the jobsworth staff who’ll keep giving you evils until you succumb to paying £1.50 for a KitKat at the kiosk.

On our way back from the soft play, my five-year-old son said: ‘I wish we could live in London. Then we could see Grandma all the time.’

I can understand where he’s coming from – he misses his Grandma who has recently had to move back to London (a long laborious story that I shan’t trouble you with) and also I’m up in London a lot. He hates Tuesdays because it’s often the day when I have to go up and this week it was when Grandma left after a visit at the weekend.

One day, though, I hope he will appreciate that three pounds for a day at the beach is an absolute bargain. In fact, the next time I go to park at our local one, I’m not only going to willingly hand over my three pounds to the attendant, but I will also shake them by the hand and express my appreciation at the service, nay gateway to joy, that they provide. Gone will be my feelings of anger, resentment and disgust at their seemingly rip-off list of parking charges, even if it looks that the last time they bothered to maintain the surface upon which they are charging people to drive and leave their cars was in 1963. If ever such feelings raise their ugly heads, all the wife will have to do is whisper: ‘Soft play, remember the soft play…’

Thank you, London.

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