So my OSOs' middle kid is about to turn 8 and she very emphatically wanted to continue the nascent tradition from last year that I'd take her out for a treat rather than giving her a physical present. There's lots of evidence that people (above a minimum subsistence level) get more out of experiences and spending time with loved ones than physical objects, but I'm surprised to find a small child who can resist the short-term gratification of a gift enough to be clear on that! Plus extremely flattered that she considers my company enjoyable enough to constitute a birthday treat. It's true that as long as she's known me I've been kind of useless with children as such, and she knows I love her and mean well anyway, and we've gradually built up our own ways to interact.
When the new child friendly climbing centre opened a few months before her birthday, the choice of treat was obvious. We travelled down together on the bus and chatted and played games and enjoyed uninterrupted attention. The half hour before each session includes a safety briefing and making sure everybody is secured into a harness. Our particular slot had two, maybe three school parties? Anyway there were only three or four other adults than me in the session. The staff were very sweet but not particularly experienced at keeping the attention of large groups of children, but it worked ok anyway.
Then they let us into the arena and the birthday girl more or less ran straight up most of the available walls. I had been a bit concerned that a climbing treat wasn't going to be good for talking but I think she was confident she'd have me for the whole evening so happy to just throw herself fully into the activity. I'd never done any climbing at all before, and I was even less competent at it than I'd expected to be, but definitely enjoyed myself. I had thought the video-game themed walls might be slightly gimmicky but at least to my inexperienced view it seemed that they actually had a range of different mechanics / climbing styles available. Very differently shaped holds, at least, and as far as I could tell you needed to use different techniques and sets of muscles to get up different walls. The system is that you stand at the bottom of your chosen wall and put your hand up, then an assitant comes and clips your harness to an automated belaying device. Then when you fall or jump off the rope lowers you down slowly.
I took a little while to get over the psychological barrier of climbing over head-height, not ridiculously so but I didn't get started immediately. Which left not very much overlap between being confident to climb right to the top and my arms being too tired to really manage it. There were a lot of walls I just couldn't get onto at all, they looked straightforward but really weren't. Like there's a ladder with rungs only about an inch deep and a solid wall behind, and ropes hanging down in front of it, and I thought it would be easy enough to haul myself up by the ropes, but without a decent place to get purchase for my feet I really couldn't do it. Similarly I couldn't work out how to grip protruding knobs (as opposed to the more standard ledges) in a way to usefully pull myself up by my arms. Whereas some of the ones with more normal styles of hold I couldn't figure out a route, in spite of the fact that four-year-olds barely half my height could manage just fine! I was reminded of rydra_wong's posts about how climbing is a kind of puzzle, intellectually as well as physically challenging.
I haven't really climbed much since I had a bad fall when I was 12, and it was nice to find that my muscles still remember some of the basic technique. So although I wasn't very successful in the sense that I didn't actually complete any of the walls and only got started at all on a handful (out of about twenty) I had a great time. And it felt like a good workout both for strength and aerobically (in spite of a fair amount of standing around not knowing how to start some walls); certainly my arms and shoulders and back are pleasantly achey two days later. Lots of people congratulated me on how impressive J's climbing was, and I decided not to come out as poly to random parents-of-other-kids but just said she was my friend. Equally she reassured me that the reason she's so much better at it than me is that she often climbs whatever structures happen to be in her environment, so she's had more practice. Which is true but it was very considerate of her to say so!
It was enough to convince me I'd like to do more climbing, though Clip 'n' Climb itself is a bit pricey to make an actually regular thing. After our hour-long session we sat in the little café and drank slushies and tea and chatted some more. The venue is a bit primitive, it's a converted warehouse where the non-climbing facilities are still a bit under construction, and not surprisingly for a large open space full of excited kids it's very, very noisy. But it was just a lovely little space of getting a drink together.
Sometime around now we started playing Badland, a really pretty and gentle platformer I'd had in my play queue for a while. It has a local multiplayer co-op mode which really lifts it out of the run-of-the-mill get your character past obstacles to the target games. Partly I think because I was playing with someone who has more patience than I do with repeatedly retrying until a level is solved, but partly it's just really well thought out. Gameplay requires what I find a good balance of reflexes and thinking, but it's neither unreasonably fast nor requires you to exactly read the mind of the puzzle designer, you can mostly just muddle through somehow, especially in co-op where if between you you get at least one creature through you win. Also later on in the evening we ended up playing four player, which is ridiculous on a 5'' touchscreen but just about works, amazingly! If you fail a checkpoint several times in a row it gives you the option to skip; the whole thing seems to be balanced for fun and enjoyment rather than being pointlessly hard. It's not quite a story, but not far off. (I got the full version from a Humble Bundle; I think it's probably worth a few quid but the mechanic to buy it is that you get a free-to-play version with ads and restrictions, which you then have to upgrade via in-app purchases, which is a bit annoying.)
Anyway, once fortified we headed to the global buffet place, Nines. I am not a huge fan, I think the food is somewhat mediocre in quality and the vegetarian range is limited and it's very noisy and a bit over-priced for even an unlimited buffet. But it's such a fantastic treat for kids to be able to eat restaurant food without having to rely on waiter service, and even I haven't grown out of finding it fun to be able to choose lots of different things.
We played live-action Badland on the way home, and then stayed up a bit late because nobody really wanted the day to be over and because I wanted to catch up with the rest of the family. So Sunday was generally a fairly tired quiet day, though we managed to fit in a few small games including a really cool Lego one, and there was tea and talking and I snatched just a couple of hours with jack before heading back to Stoke.
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