The gates of hell

Imagine reaching the gates of hell. You have known this moment was coming, you have sinned and you only ever get what you deserve. Behind the terrifying threshold you can see the enormous flames engulfing the wind, evil looking red-bodied people waving pitchforks menacingly, an X Factor rejects compilation album playing at full blast.

Then suddenly a man appears and holds out his hand.

‘That’ll be £1.75 please,’ he says.

Well, that’s pretty much what happened to me the other day when I took the kids to a new soft play centre that’s recently opened in town. OK, hell is perhaps a little bit of an unfair comparison. As my wife pointed out before we went along, the new centre does have its good points: a huge, winding climbing area, lots of dressing up and imaginative play activities around the perimeter and the cafe does a decent all-day breakfast. But let’s be honest, if the rival soft play centre in the next town is anything to go by, any indoor venue full of kids running about shouting and shrieking while their parents resignedly sit on uncomfortable chairs, checking their watches every two minutes, has to be a strong candidate for hell on earth.

So think how incensed I felt as I was reading the tariff to enter this new establishment to find that adults had to pay £1.75 to get in. £1.75?! Excuse me, but are we going to be allowed to hurl ourselves down the big slide. Of course not. Are we going to be able to fit into the kiddie overalls so we can have a game of mechanics in the ‘garage’. No chance!

Why the high charge for adults? As the sign next to the tariff board states, adults must take responsibility of their children and must not leave them unaccompanied. So why should we have to pay for the privilege? I accept there should be a minimal charge of some sort, but £1.75 is a bit excessive – its rival in the next town sets their adult fee at just 50p.

But calm down, Grumpy, I told myself as I handed over my debit card. Maybe this £1.75 is being invested to create an innovative soft play centre oasis for adults. You know, a softly lit cafe area with comfortable seats and soothing music in the background, helping the specially-installed acoustics to minimise the sound of ya-hooing youngsters. Maybe even a library of contemporary literature to keep us entertained.

Huh. Yeah right. The same formica style seating, the same bright lights beaming over everyone, not even a copy of the Daily Mirror in sight. Oh sure, they have free Wi-Fi. But £1.75 isn’t exactly free, is it?

Then the death knell for me, the rock of salt in the gaping gash of disappointment. We’d already eaten and didn’t fancy the all-day breakfast – besides, the lone sausage struggling to keep warm on the empty metal platter looked up at me as if to say: ‘I wouldn’t, mate.’ So we just got a coffee in. It was one of these self-service machines. The wife’s latte looked ok, but I chose a cappuccino and, well, after a cup of not exactly scalding hot milk came dribbling out, there was a tiny squirt of ‘coffee’ that more resembled a mini chocolate button melting in a sea of J Collis Brown dodgy tum medicine. It was hideous – and priced around the £1.75 mark too. Like we were in Starbucks. Trust me, this was no Starbucks.

In the centre’s favour, though, was that the kids, of course, enjoyed it and I can see it quite easily becoming a regular place to visit in the winter months especially. But I have to say, not with this cheeky adult fee.

I looked at the fees for an annual pass. The kids passes were a reasonable £30 each. The adult passes were £22.50. Again, why? Is it just a way to look like you’re charging the kids less because you’re making the grown-ups pay more? And forking out for overpriced watery tepid beverages in the process. Maybe charge each additional adult who comes in with the child, but by rights, the first one should get in for free because without them, the child wouldn’t be able to get in. Seems basic common sense to me. Really, I am flummoxed.

They really need to sort it out, but the sad thing is they probably won’t because they know people will go along anyway. And so I am not flummoxed by the charge at all. It’s just greed.

Well, I for one will be avoiding the place as much as possible. I hope others do the same until they have a rethink about their pricing policy. And ideally their ‘coffee’ machine.

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