Here’s some advice you wouldn’t have got on Wish You Were with Judith Chalmers - don’t attempt potty training when you have planned a week of trips to beaches and family attractions.
However, if you do end up in such a situation (which was child two's idea, I'd like to point out) you’ll find that you quickly get very proficient at hiding the fact that your daughter is sitting on a potty in the middle of Godshill’s Model Village. My apologies to the mother who appeared from behind a hedge and received an eyeful.
The best technique we found was to hide a potty in the underside of a pushchair and then rapidly whip it out and slide it underneath the seated child when nature called (which was six times at the Model Village). After a while it began to resemble an F1 pit stop with Mrs Guru and I both springing into action, which coincidentally rhymed with what we called it.
Anyway, enough about toilet habits.
The reason I mention such things is that we were already at a heightened level of tension when we visited Shanklin on a sunny day in August.
As Blondie would say, the tide was high but we took a trip to the beach nonetheless (she only said the first bit of that sentence obviously). The weather had previously been a bit iffy and a trip to the Isle of Wight without sitting on a beach is like a trip to the Louvre without seeing the Mona Lisa.
We had a jolly time on the beach, with child one leaping over tiny waves and child two trying to decide if she should be crying or enjoying herself.
Shanklin is a great beach for smaller children since it has sand, toilets at either end of the Esplanade and parking within a short walk of the beach. I much prefer a quiet beach with crumbly cliffs but I've learnt that keeping everyone else happy is the key to true tranquillity.
Eventually we lured the children away with a trip to the large arcade on Shanklin Esplanade, which is currently our favourite on the Island. My father enjoyed arcades as much as surgery so we never visited them, but I have made up for it with regular visits with our own children.
The downstairs section of the main Shanklin Arcade has been upgraded in recent years with fun new machines which involve throwing balls at clowns, bowling with animated monkeys, knocking over coconuts and playing a giant keyboard. I become desperately competitive as a flurry of red balls pours towards me and a counter ticks down. Even better are the yellow tokens which pour out at the end, offering a glorious sense of achievement.
As we are real masters of this, we managed to win ourselves 127 yellow tokens after spending a mere £10. In previous years, 127 tokens was worth £1.27 in the gift shop so the expression “the house always wins” comes to mind.
Nonetheless, it’s a good way to fill an hour if you can bear the noise and it’s particularly welcome if it’s raining outside.
We took our winnings to the counter and looked at the tempting array of future landfill and sugar which we could swap our tickets for.
After months of making the same parental mistake I now insist that the children choose the same thing, so we eventually reached a conclusion that they would each get a small plastic princess. They cost 120 tickets each, so I was prepared to pay the extra so that they could both have one. In previous trips I had entered the gift shop with a fist full of tokens and left with a bag full of toys and an empty wallet so I assumed this upgrading would be OK.
I handed over my tokens and explained that I would need to pay the extra for my second princess.
Unfortunately, the arcade attendant rapidly processed my tickets, handed over one princess and then at this point told me that purchasing extras was not allowed - disregarding the fact that it was actively encouraged last year when gifts were exchanged fifty metres away in the gift shop*
I clutched my lone princess and looked down at the two optimistic faces who were by now holding up their hands in expectation of receiving their prizes after an hour of ticket-winning.
At this point I had three options.
The first was to re-open negotiations with the gift attendant and explain that we would really like to swap our purchased item for two smaller items. This was not really an option as we had spent 20 minutes concluding that we wanted a princess and only had 10 minutes left on the parking ticket.
The second option was to promise the earth and whisk the children away as quickly as possible before they realised what had happened.
The third option was to run out of the arcade whilst screaming, jump off the sea wall and run into the sea.
I chose the second as giving wild promises without any plan about following through seems to be acceptable behaviour nowadays, and it was certainly preferable to a parking fine.
I told the children that there had been a ‘mix up’ but that ‘daddy will sort it’ and told them to head for the car.
Of course, I had no clue what ‘daddy will sort it’ actually meant but it sounded as if it might be expensive so they went along with it.
Back at the car, Mrs Guru and I discussed our options. Could they share the princess? Not a great option when one of them is two and was beyond tired by this point.
Should we spend another hour in the arcade trying to win another princess? It would certainly add an exciting edge to the games, but tea time was approaching and everyone was hungry. Plus, I had a feeling that we’d get to the counter again and find that it was closed.
Or should we slip the lady in the arcade a twenty pound note and see if she’d pass a princess under the counter? I considered it, but decided we weren’t quite that desperate.
And so, Mrs Guru made a dash to the adjacent giftshop in the hope that they had the same supplier of plastic tat as the arcade.
The rest of us waited in the car for 10 minutes before she returned looking crestfallen and empty handed.
And so, with all other options exhausted, we caved in and resorted to The Emergency Giant Chocolate Lolly which sits in the bottom of Mrs Guru’s bag.
Child one's eyes widened at the sight of the chocolate and the princess was soon forgotten. The princess is still sat in my glovebox and will probably stay there until we win a second princess at the arcade in a few month’s time.
And when my dentist asks why my children have tooth decay, I shall simply tell him this story.
*Incidentally, now that the steam has stopped coming out of my ears I have softened a little and concluded that sitting inside a dark booth handing out plastic toys must be a frustrating experience when you are 100 metres from a sandy beach. Especially when every other parents asks if they can pay a bit extra for the giant unicorn. I would look to formally retract the scowl I offered to the arcade attendant.
A couple of years ago I started a family tradition of asking everyone for their Wow Moment of the day during teatime.
I soon lost interest in the tradition but child two has taken on the role of asking everyone for their highlight of the day. The rules state that you have to come up with something original rather than just agreeing with the last person.
Usually, Mrs Guru and I just look at each other with a smirk after a day when our main objective has been to make it to bedtime without a tantrum in public.
“Er, I had a nice coffee this morning” is one of my favourite choices.
For once, I had a proper wow moment.
A friend had invited me to join his monthly full moon swim, which takes place at various locations on the Island. He has managed quite a few, but I waited until August before considering such things.
On this occasion we met at the Compton Farm end of Compton Bay. The steep steps make for a death-defying clamber down when you are carrying a bodyboard and wetsuit, but the view from the top is one of my favourites.
I was also carrying a Taste The Difference Victoria Sponge, since it had been a little while since I’d been invited to a party and had rather forgotten what people bring to such things. Plus, it was all I could find whilst rushing out the door after getting the children to bed.
After sharing my victoria sponge with bemused strangers and catching up with an also-invited old school friend after 17 years of non-contact, the moment finally arrived as the light of the moon began to appear over the cliffs towards Blackgang.
About 30 or 40 people jumped into the sea and my Wow Moment was just seconds away. Remarkably, it wasn’t the moment that I realised that one of my fellow swimmers was skinny dipping and I began to giggle like a schoolgirl.
As the full moon to our left lit up the sea, the summertime fireworks display at Alum Bay lit up the sky to our right. And so, I happily bodyboarded whilst the assembled swimmers cheered the arrival of the moon like they’d never seen it before.
I had a celebratory slice of sandy victoria sponge, whilst everyone else tucked into the barbecue.
The next day, my chance arrived as I was asked for my Wow Moment and began to share my tale.
“Sorry Daddy, it has to be something from today, that’s one of the rules” said child one.
We are big fans of Blackgang Chine with its oddball collection of moving dinosaurs, talking bins and waterslides. Many of our best days out have been held there, particularly now child one is tall enough to go on most things. For many of us, it offers both nostalgia and new curiosities each time we visit.
Robin Hill has the same owners and also offers a cracking day out, over a much larger area. Our favourite bits are the toboggan run, the African themed playground and the new treetop jumping nets but there’s enough to fill several hours.
However, my nose began to bleed and my head rotated three times on our most recent visit to Blackgang Chine when we discovered a ticket for four has now gone up to £100 during peak season. Discount codes and money off vouchers for Blackgang and Robin Hill are rarer than the residents of Dodo Valley, so it ended up costing us a similar price to Alton Towers where ticket prices are higher but 2 for 1 vouchers are ubiquitous.
A four-person family ticket to Blackgang Chine way back in 2008 would have cost you £35 whilst Robin Hill was £31. According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, that would put 2018's prices at £46 for Blackgang Chine or £41 for Robin Hill
To be fair, a lot has been invested in both parks in the last 10 years. For example, back in 2008 I don't think Robin Hill offered evening events as part of the ticket price and Blackgang Chine didn't have as much of a daytime programme. Also, they didn't used to have peak and off-peak prices, so it's not a very fair comparison. I’m sure there are also multiple other expenses which have increased and both parks always looks clean and freshly painted, unlike the flaky-paint you find at some cheaper parks.
Anyway, rather than wishing it was 2008, let’s have a look at seven ways to get better value out of a trip to Blackgang Chine or Robin Hill:
1. Visit at the start of your holiday
Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill both offer a 7 day free return. You can probably see all of either park in a day, but you may want to revisit things if a rain cloud arrives twenty seconds after you’ve coughed up £100 (the weather is weird at Blackgang Chine). Most things operate in the rain but the toboggan run at Robin Hill and the snakes and ladders slides at Blackgang Chine both shut - and of course it’s utterly miserable walking round a theme park whilst raindrops drip off your nose and the map turns into a soggy mess.
You’ll feel better about it if you come back at the end of your week for another go, even if you do end up spending twenty quid on unicorns and plastic cap guns in the gift shops.
2. Come back in the evening
During the summer months both Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill put on evening shows, which are included in the ticket price. Some people visit the park during the day and then return for an evening show later in the week.
We saw one of the shows in Robin Hill’s Amphitheatre last year and were really impressed at the scale and atmosphere. If you consider it two different family days out for the price then it starts to feel like much better value.
3. Visit with a 3 year old
I’ll admit this is a bit restrictive, but taking a child on the eve of their fourth birthday is a good move. When we visited it was £26 for anyone over the age of 4, or free for anyone under the age of 4. Blackgang Chine in particular has quite a bit which will appeal to most three year olds. Sure, they’d get more out of it when they are five or six, but you'd like to leave them with at least some inheritance wouldn't you?
4. Buy an annual pass
This one’s no use to most holidaymakers, but the pricing structure is such that if you visit twice in a year (more than 7 days apart) then you would be best to get an annual pass for £39 or £74 for both parks.
Personally, I think that Robin Hill is a better option for an annual pass as there are more playgrounds and space to run around but Blackgang Chine has better views and an unbeatable charm. Some people alternate between annual passes at the two parks.
5. Buy in advance/buy a joint ticket
I’ve bundled these two together as they offer a modest saving. Honestly, neither deal makes my heart beat faster but they’re worth considering.
A £100 family ticket for Blackgang Chine in 2019 was £96 if you paid in advance. However, advanced tickets can’t be bought on the day, so is it worth the £4 saving to then find that the weather forecast was wrong or one of the children needs an unexpected trip to the GP?
A joint family ticket, bought in advance will cost you £174, a saving of about £15. So, it’s probably worth it if you are confident that you’ll be visiting both parks.
6. Visit off peak
Not much use to most holidaymakers, but both parks are considerably cheaper outside of school holidays when there aren’t the evening events (it used to be the same price all the time). An off-peak family ticket to Blackgang bought in advance is £76, compared to £96 whilst Robin Hill is £66 compared to £88
7. Get your in-laws to pay
Ruthless pennypinchers on a family holiday with the wider family should attempt this strategy:
Got any other suggestions for discounts at Blackgang Chine or Robin Hill? Please feel free to comment below...
I don't think I'm being unfair in saying that the Isle of Wight is often a few years behind the rest of the country. You won't find an Uber driver on the Island, the only trainline is using carriages from the 1930s and - as previously discussed - the first escalator didn't arrive until the mid-90s (now a B&M Bargains in Newport if you're interested in history).
It seems the Isle of Wight isn't so far behind in the realisation that we are choking the planet with our desire to wrap everything in plastic and then chuck it into a great big pile.
There are several people attempting to make the Isle of Wight a more environmentally-friendly place. Mrs Guru has been making some zero waste changes at home and has been hinting that we should highlight some local businesses who are big on sustainability. So here goes:
If you know of other local businesses which are aiming to use less plastic (or run one yourself) please give them a mention in the comments section below - this list is only intended to be a starter for 10 rather than a directory.
There's also a Facebook group called Journey to Zero Waste Isle of Wight which has more than 1000 members and has lots of ideas for avoiding plastic on the Island.
And finally, if you're interested in such things, take a look at the work of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation which is based in Cowes. They're one of the leading organisations for creating a 'circular economy' and work with some of the biggest companies in the world.
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