Kids love bouncy castles. And why not? They’re bouncy and unpredictable, like Kanye West on a pogo stick.
But just like Calpol, crayons and eating your own bogeys, the allure of the bouncy castle tends to dissipate as we reach adulthood.
I’m not someone who lists ‘castle bouncing’ as a hobby these days.
My kids, on the other hand, love a good bouncy castle.
The bouncier the better.
The only thing they love more than a GOOD bouncy castle is a REALLY BAD bouncy castle. Especially those ones that haven’t undergone a decent risk assessment since mullets were cool.
In fact, the more dubious the health and safety standards appear to a casual bystander, the more keen my kids are to dive on headfirst and find the hazards.
We’re at a farm park.
We’re enjoying the standard parental farm park experience - the kids are interested in everything EXCEPT the very farm animals that we just paid a whopping £37.50 to visit. (BTW - My son’s favourite animal at Chester Zoo was once the scabby pigeon in the car park. Money well spent.)
The kids want to eat their lunch.
I explain that it’s only 10.27am.
To distract them, we find the play area.
‘There’s a little bouncy castle,’ I promise them.
And that’s when I see it.
The massive, rubbery bastard.
Twice as big as any I’ve seen before and clearly filled with evil intentions, as if the breath of Beelzebub himself had been used to inflate this diabolical fortress of certain physical injury.
As we move closer, it’s clear that this is no normal bouncy castle. It’s a Hunger Games-inspired springy assault course designed to weed out the physically weakest members of society.
There’s a bunch of things to jump over, crawl under and squeeze past.
Once you’ve negotiated the obstacles, you’re then faced with a near-vertical climbing wall in order to escape.
Your reward for conquering all of this is a slide back down to freedom.
Little did I know what a destructive impact this badly inflated structure was to have on my long-term bouncy castle confidence.
I take a deep breath.
‘Come on, Daddy!’
The kids have already taken their shoes off.
I reluctantly volunteer to join them.
We jump, crawl and squeeze our way around.
We fall and help each other up.
We drag ourselves onto the home straight.
We see the steps to climb onto the top of the slide. They’re almost completely vertical.
I push both boys up and watch them jump down the slide to my wife, out of my sight.
I try to climb the steps.
But the steps are bouncy.
My feet keep slipping.
I can’t get purchase.
‘Who makes inflatable steps?’ I mutter to myself, while having another go.
I slip down again.
‘Fuck this, I need a run up’, I think, so I turn around and walk a few steps back to give myself a chance.
I notice there’s a few other people now waiting for me to get out of their way.
This time I manage to scramble to the top, enough to poke my head just above the top of the slide before slipping back down again.
My wife witnesses my pathetic attempt and shows her support by laughing at me.
I try again and tumble back to the floor.
I apologise to everyone who I’m holding up.
On my next attempt, I almost make it to the apex but by now my upper body strength has evaporated like steam from an outdoor piss so I violently crash back down again. Thankfully, I manage to get high enough for my supportive wife to once again howl at my complete ineptitude.
‘LOOK AT DADDY!’ I hear her bellow from the other side. ‘HE CAN’T GET OUT!’
My kids are now laughing at me.
I have another crack.
Each time I try to escape I manage to momentarily poke my head into public view above the wall, for just long enough for my wife to loudly snort-laugh at me.
With each attempt I can feel myself becoming weaker and more ashamed.
By the sixth attempt I notice other people are staring and nudging others.
I try again.
The queue behind me is getting longer. I’m convinced people are talking about me under their breath.
I have another go.
My cheeks are turning crimson, a combination of exhaustion and embarrassment.
The queue is growing impatient. Struggling for breath, I address them.
‘If any of you, erm, want to go ahead of me, just, you know, feel free.’
With that, the entire queue swarms past me as I stagger the opposite way like an asthmatic salmon.
Toddlers whizz by and climb the wall with ease. An elderly lady jogs past and climbs the steps first time, throwing me a look of disdain that says, ‘I may not have any of my own teeth or hips, but at least I’m not you.’
I have another go.
There’s a queue forming behind me again.
My OWN KIDS then sprint past me for a second time, giggling up the steps and down the slide like it’s nothing.
I’ve got to get out.
My wife is cackling like a demented hyena.
Strangers are laughing at me.
I consider going backwards and climbing out of the entrance but the threat of total humiliation stops me. I contemplate building a new life for myself inside the bouncy castle. A civilisation. A brave new world where wives show respect to their husbands even when they get stuck inside stuff that others (including small children) can easily escape.
I try again, this time channelling all of the humiliation and ridicule into my arms and legs.
Against all odds, I make it to the top of the slide.
The now sizeable viewing gallery give me a sarcastic cheer. My wife is struggling to breathe with the sheer hilarity of watching the love of her life be publicly shamed in this manner.
I roll down the slide and lie flat on my back, panting for breath.
My kids are stood over me. Pointing at me. Laughing.
I’m just relived to be a free man again.
‘What is it, son?’
‘Where have your socks gone?’
I look at my bare feet. Both socks have come off during the struggle.
For a second, I’m broken.
I look back at my naked toes. They’ve been through so much. They deserve more.
I rise to my feet.
I cannot let this foul beast win.
My wife tries to stop me.
My kids are screaming.
I shrug them off and march back to the entrance, filled with fiery vengeance.
I know what I must do.
I stare down the entrance.
‘Those socks are mine. Give them back.’
The bouncy castle snorts in derision.
I flex each leg behind me, one after the other.
Let’s dance, motherfucker.
🤓 New blog every Tue. My new stand up show ‘TODDLERGEDDON’ is touring the UK in 2020.