Well, I survived and all the kids did too. I hate that phrase "not too bad", you may be aware of my feelings on it if you've read any of my posts before. It conjures up negativity and thoughts of doom, gloom and another bad word ending in "oom".
It seems a useful phrase to use to describe my feelings on returning home after taking the 11 year old her party of dangerous friends to a swimming and ice skating birthday party thing. Not only did I survive but I managed to return with the same number of kids that I left with. This was a bonus, something I hadn't expected.
I had left with eleven kids and set myself a target of returning with at least nine, two of whom would be my own daughters. I thought that was reasonable and that other parents would wholly understand if one or two fell by the wayside. So, to return with the full quota was a big stroke of luck. I probably should have checked at some point whether it was the same kids that I left with but I didn't care, some of them looked familiar anyway.
I had instructed the thirteen year old and her friend that I needed their help in keeping control of her younger sister and the group. The good thing about thirteen year olds is that they respond to this sort of stuff, so they gave me as much help as possible. I drove this minibus thing to get us there and that was something that was fun. I like driving, I'd class it as a hobby so chucking myself in a minibus and tootling around in it is actually something I enjoy, particularly when there's a nice car to get into at the end of it all.
What wasn't nice was the weather. A friend had told me that it was warm and sunny with a light breeze in Sri Lanka and I was pining for the charms of Colombo, for its uniqueness and its beauty, for the way it makes me feel and the things it makes me want to do. But, here in West London we had pissing rain, grey sky and wind. In fact we did have severe weather warnings for the weekend for the whole country. The rain was that type that you don't feel, you always go out in it and walk as if it's not raining, then discover that you're soaked to the bone five minutes later. It only exists in the UK, I think it must be made just for here and imported especially.
We set off. Somewhere in the back of the bus were the eleven year olds and sharing the front with me were the two thirteen year olds. The hour's journey consisted mostly of the eleven year olds singing songs and the thirteen year olds listening to iPods with me driving and observing. I started to wonder at what age in Sri Lanka kids would start to have a good old baila session under the same circumstances. I've been involved in a few over the years but only as an adult, I don't have a clue if eleven year old girls in a van would be singing a baila or some Muse mixed in with some Simon and Garfunkel, as was the case with my delegates.
When we got there, a big leisure centre in Guildford (not Yorkshire Confab!) I led the group towards the sign that said "entrance", I had it all thought out. Proper entrance involved lots of paying, puzzled looks, shouting and trying to make myself understood. The girl on the desk was one of these East European types that we have over here and didn't speak great English. With age comes experience and with experience comes knowledge. The knowledge that I have acquired over the years includes a tip for dealing with foreigners if they don't understand you; shout. It works.
I led them towards pool, bunged them in the changing rooms and gave them some change for the lockers. They could all swim, I'd checked that out already, so I left them to get on with things, arranging to meet up in a couple of hours. I went up to a viewing area, where I could sit, have a drink and have an eye on the group. This bit was actually very nice. I sat around and read a book, listened to some music on my iPod and watched the people float past me, all of whom were in varying degrees of tiredness and undress. Interesting stuff indeed.
Then, at the alloted time, I headed back to the changing area to assemble the throng once again. We were supposed to meet at 1.30, it had been both instructed and agreed. They all managed to get out of the water in time, they got dressed and came out, all except my own terror, the birthday girl, and a couple of friends. It took them all of about twenty minutes to casually walk out and wonder what was wrong.
"Oh did you say 1.30 Dad?" she said to me as I gave her that look, the one that is supposed to strike terror into all children but actually makes them laugh and shift ever so slightly uncomfortably.
I couldn't really tell her off, being her bithday party and all, so we then headed off to Burger King to get them some food.
I had thought that a Burger King, in a leisure centre on a rainy English Saturday, would be geared up to selling and serving things like burgers, chips and drinks to its customers. I was wrong. I had cleverly minimised the potential complications by telling my gang that they would all have burger, chips and water. There were no vegetarians amongst us and I had cleverly planned that I could sneak back in later, while they were skating, and get myself a double whopper with cheese.
It was never going to be that easy though. The fuckwit that served me sighed as I asked for "eleven kid's meals".
He actually gave me a look as if I had just told him that his bollocks would be dropping next year rather than sometime later this year as he had hoped. It was an example of Great British customer service at its best. The idiot then did all he could to ensure that his bollocks actually would have dropped by the time I took delivery of the meals, it was a close call indeed.
The throng ate, eleven year olds can eat at blistering fast speeds even when they're not hungry, so this performance was a bit special. Then we headed towards the skating bit. I managed to organised skates, lockers and attitudes and chucked them out onto the ice. Wobblyness was present in all its variants, from zero to total. Total wobblyness, which had manifested itself in both my lovely daughters' performances, reminded me distinctly of Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous in one of her finer moments. I can picture my eleven year old walking just like that in a few years' time, only without skates, ice or sobriety, with a cigarette in hand too.
I left them to skate as I piroutted in the direction of the dodgy Burger King to feed my face. I found a spot that overlooked the rink and watched armies of teenagers as they showed off all their ice moves and tried to be cool without looking as if they were trying. It's nice to know some things don't change. It seemed like only last week when it was me, trying to act cool without looking like I was trying too hard, attempting to carry off the whole nonchalent yet I'm a bit special because I'm part of this crowd thing. Then I remembered the gig on Wednesday with the covers band and realised that it was only last week. I still can't figure out where my kids get it from though.
At the designated time we met up at the designated place, or nearly and nearly. I counted the kids, the figure tallied with one that I had in my head from before, so we marched our way towards the minibus, piled in and headed off. The back of the minibus was packed with children, but on this leg of the journey they were far more subdued, a demeanour I shared and could relate to. After struggling through some London rain and traffic we arrived, the kids piled out and I continued on to exchange the minibus for my car.
All in all the day was rather fine. I think the kids enjoyed it, there were no injuries, there was no loss of life and my car had never felt as good to drive as when I got back in it.
Not too bad inded!