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.
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