The other day I found myself emailing my husband an observation about one of the Peppa Pig books our household owns: "In the Fun at the Fair Peppa book," I observed, "Dr Brown Bear and Mrs Cow appear to be sharing a carousel capsule. Platonic friendship or interspecies date?"
You know things have gone too far when your main subject for discussion with your spouse is a children's television character. But really, we love Peppa Pig in our household. And it's not just us - I tweeted about my favourite episode not so long ago and got several responses from people I knew from my work in journalism and politics telling me about their favourite episode in return.
For some this marks us out as a little, dare I say it, chavvy. For Peppa Pig is not on CBeebies, the middle-class television channel of choice, but on Nick Jr (which we don't have) and Five, which is where we watch our daily triple bill every morning before resorting to the thirty or so episodes we have recorded. It's the equivalent of having a satellite dish on your house in the early nineties or allowing your kids a McDonald's birthday party (I had one, it was great), and will no doubt earn tuts from the same kind of people who consider flapjacks a biscuit and raisins a treat, Still, it was fitting as we were en route to stay in a caravan for a week. That's right, a caravan, not a cottage, not a farmhouse, not even a Center Parcs. (And it was great.)
Anyway we love Peppa Pig, an acutely observed five minute animation about the Pig family, a loving and stable family of four whose recent bad press was entirely undeserved, not least because Daddy Pig seems to me to be exactly the sort of dad I would hope all children have - involved, fun and responsible. He's the kind of man, I mean Pig, who makes lunch for his family, gives up his slice of cake so his kids can feed the ducks, takes his kids to work on 'Take your piggies to work day', organises fun days out and fun days in and still enjoys a bit of slap and tickle with Mummy Pig, who he takes to the theatre on her birthday having arranged the babysitter by himself. By which I mean he's certainly no Homer Simpson, though to be honest who wouldn't want him as a dad too?
So we promised our daughter, who already owned a Peppa bubble bath, toothbrush, bag, nightie, pyjamas, two t-shirts, several play figures, large plush toy, small plush toy, camper van, sound blocks and twenty Peppa books, a trip to Peppa Pig World, as if she doesn't already live in it.
And what a world it is. As a rule I hate theme parks. I don't much like rides or enforced fun. But the rides were gentle (a trip in a train, or a boat, or Daddy's car, or if you dared - we didn't - a helicopter, hot air balloon or dinosaur). We saw a real duck in the fake duck pond which made my day as a keen observer of skeuomorphism, had a picnic just as the Pig family would, ate an ice cream from Miss Rabbit's ice cream parlour and, best fun of all, splashed in the muddy puddles fountain area (because as the show frequently points out, everybody loves jumping in muddy puddles). For this I advise taking a swimming cossie and a towel for the kids. Had we paid for our own tickets (see below) I may have been a little annoyed that this was my daughter's favourite bit, as our local park has something similar for free though without the Peppa branding.
My daughter is two and a half and I would say this was at the lower end of the appropriate age group. The gentle rides were good and the queues for them (on a Monday before the summer holidays had started) just manageable for her, but it was one of those days where we were all in relatively good humour. Had we not been the whole thing could have been a disaster.
Of course the thing about Peppa with its bright colours and jaunty music is it promotes good behaviour. It was incredibly hot the day we visited but there wasn't any pushing or queue jumping or shouting or swearing. In fact for a show that fails the middle class test, it was all remarkably, you know, middle class.
There was also a soft play area (take socks with you, adults and children, if you want to be allowed in) though I have to admit the look we get when we admit to being a family that watches Channel Five is the look I give people when they choose soft play over a trip to the playground. Still, it would have been handy had it rained.
I often judge family days out by the price of the food on offer and the price of the gift shop. The food was fine for drinks and ice creams but I would definitely take your own picnic, though I felt a bit guilty about the pork pies I'd packed given the nature of our visit. The gift shop was expensive but had enough at pocket money prices to keep us all happy and we came away with a fridge magnet, a pencil case and a small Rebecca Rabbit soft toy that squeaks when pressed, and a present for my nephew too, and still had change from fifteen quid.
All of this took place in a brightly coloured area of Paulton's Family Theme Park in the New Forest. We didn't have time to explore the rest of the park, which has rides, animals and gardens, but it looked to me, as we walked through it to the Peppa Pig part, like exactly the kind of place you'd allow a teenage Peppa to take Delphine Donkey when she comes to visit on French Exchange in ten years time and not worry that they'd meet the wrong sort and end up at a Facebook Party organised by Freddy Fox or smoking a spliff behind the playgroup building with some dodgy friends of Danny Dog.
I'd go again, any time we could afford the price of a non press ticket - £22.50 in advance for an adult or a child over 1 metre (children under a metre are free) or £86.00 in advance for a family of four, and could face the drive down the M3. I just hope that when my kids are too old for Peppa (can you be too old for Peppa? I'm certainly not, but I suspect there may be a period between about 6 and 26 where one is both too old for Peppa and too young for Peppa) and want to go on the rides in the rest of the park, that they'll still let me pop in for a splash in a muddy puddle.
It may come as a surprise to non journalists but the way this kind of thing works for journalists is that you ask the press office for free tickets and you then write about your visit either in a review or in other articles. I tend not to write direct reviews but most of my trips are written about at some point or another. Take, for example, a trip to Legoland a few of years ago which led to a mention in my national newspaper column shortly afterwards and a diary piece in the Evening Standard when I noticed that the wits in Windsor had added a removal van to the model Number 10 Downing Street at a time the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was in trouble. This means for the very small sum of a free ticket the place in question, if it is any good, gets rather a lot of free publicity. If it is bad you tend not to write about it.
So in the interests of full disclosure, which is something bloggers are expected to do these days, We received two free tickets to Peppa Pig World (and at under a metre, the kids were also free). As Peppa Pig is such a family kind of show, and also enjoyed by the grandparents in our family, I asked if we could also have tickets for my in-laws who planned to come with us, in return for me pitching an article about Peppa Pig World as an ideal place for all generations. It was, in fact, an ideal place for all generations - gentle rides, picnic areas, toilets, ice creams, a sense of wholesome family fun etc etc. But the press office refused my request so that is as much as I am prepared to say. Harumph. Or rather, snort.