On Tuesday, a friend from ‘home’ (ie where I grew up and will always refer to as home, despite having not lived there in well over a decade) came to visit.
She’s a history teacher, so I thought she’d enjoy spending her summer holiday pretending she was at work and suggested we visit Leeds Castle in Maidstone, my review of which you can find on Day Out With The Kids here.
As well as the castle itself (which let’s face it, is boring to a preschooler because you can’t climb on it and there are no flashing lights) there is a good play area, nice grounds and ducks and stuff. Plus, once you have paid you can go back free for a year so it appeals to my thrifty side.
As per every attraction in the south east, it’s pretty expensive to buy food and drink there (£1.90 for a can of Coke Zero and £2.40 for a Twister. Ouch!). Bitter experience has taught me that the best idea is to go prepared and take a packed lunch, as there are ample spots to sit and enjoy your sandwiches with nice views.
If the kids get bored they can run about while the adults chat, all is well with the world.
It was almost lunchtime by the time we arrived.
After a light stroll from the entrance the kids were apparently ravenous and moaning about being hungry which is not a surprise as they do this about every seven minutes during waking hours.
Despite it being a gloriously sunny day during the school holidays, the main picnic area overlooking the lake wasn’t very busy and there were even picnic benches free in the shade. In retrospect this should have been a clue, but being naive we sat down to eat.
First, the wasps attacked.
Wasps don’t scare me. I’ll even take them on with my bare hands; I’ve never felt such an adrenaline rush as when I managed to clap to death an angry wasp who was threatening my sticky child. But they are bloody annoying and they are not welcome at my picnic.
My children, never ones to shy away from a bit of unnecessary drama, screamed and jumped out of their seats and ran about for a bit which is a brilliant way to annoy wasps and get stung. I persuaded the kids to sit down and eventually the wasps fucked off to annoy someone else.
Then a gaggle of ducks waddled over.
We like ducks. We feed the ducks. Ducks are cute, generally, unless they’re trying to aggressively mate with the lady ducks en-masse (‘Look mummy! Those ducks are playing!’) which is fairly unnerving but, I’m sad to say, part of duck nature.
However these ducks… These ducks are savage. These ducks are trained experts.
They’ve taken their aggression and chosen to channel it not into their weird method of reproduction but instead at liberating tourists of their sandwiches.
First they try the ‘Look at me. Quack. I’m cute aren’t I! Quack. Feed me your lunch!’ and then if that doesn’t work they peck at your toes.
This is quite unnerving, especially if you only have little toes, you’re in sandals and you’re three or four so you’re not sure whether to believe your mum that ducks don’t have teeth. After they reduced my oldest to tears I gave the pecky little twats a good shoeing to move them on. They came back, but by then we had other problems.
The big, bastard swan.
‘Aaaah look mummy! It’s a big beautiful swan! Like in the ugly duckling!’
‘Oh look, he’s coming over to say hello!’ (Don’t panic, I’m sure that thing about them breaking arms is a myth. It’s a myth, right?!).
The swan waddled over and stood about a foot away from us, watching us curiously.
I’ve never really been up that close to a swan before. They’re bloody massive.
Suddenly, the gutsy bugger lunged forward and took a Lidl rip-off flamin’ hot Monster Munch right out of my three year old’s hand.
As my son shrieked (I would have done exactly the same to be fair), swanny jim went back in for the finger. I yelped at my friend on the other side of the picnic bench to pull my son to safety whilst ineffectually flapping at the psychopathic bird with my hands, only slightly terrified he might take my fingers (or break my arm. I am guessing, having now met a swan up close and personal, it is not a myth).
Then the big fuck-off swan, giving absolutely no shits at all about my flailing arms and my loud but PG-friendly requests for it to GO AWAY PLEASE, went back in to grab my son’s discarded sandwich. It was a gluten free one, which makes it all the more galling. That stuff is not cheap.
The woman from the cafe heard the screaming and being used to this sort of thing, managed to boot him back into the water using a binbag full of rubbish. Not wishing to chance it, we upped and ran for it before he came back for our wallets.
I then had to buy him some of the aforementioned £2.40 ice lollies in order to placate him (my son, not the swan. He deserved nothing) and because the stupid thing had eaten his lunch.
Picnic at the lake with wasps, evil ducks and big bastard swans: 0/10.
Would not recommend.
If he grows up with a phobia of waterfowl (kyknophobia is, according to google, a phobia of swans and it absolutely makes sense that there is an actual word for it) I will know exactly where it came from and to be honest I wouldn’t bloody blame him.