Theme Park Etiquette, Continental Differences and a Question of Rucksacks

Day 11

You know by now that I’m in Disneyland Paris, and that I’m having a whale of a time, so I’m not going to go into the minutae of my experiences today – essentially, if you love Disney, you’ll love Disneyland, and if you don’t, well – then, you won’t!

So, even though today included Peter Pan, a trolley bus ride, the sleeping dragon,  Animagique, Armageddon FX, The Backlot Tour, Stitch Live, Ratatouille, Crush’s Coaster, RC Racer, Slinky Dog, Monsters Inc, The Tower of Terror and Phantom Manor, I’m going to focus on other things…namely, theme park survival and bloody Europeans.

(Disclaimer: I realise that I am English and from Great Britain, and am, therefore, European, but this is about continental Europe, and “celebrating” the difference.)

(Disclaimer 2: I am possibly being a tad xenophobic here. Please don’t be offended. Some British people are terribly shitty too… It’s just that mainly, it was Europeans that I came across today.)

Having been to various parts of France several times, and visited, amongst other places, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Hungary and Corsica, I don’t feel as though I’m a complete stranger to being amongst Europeans. Equally, I have been to Disneyland in California, Disney World Resort in  Florida, and am currently on my 5th visit to Disneyland Paris, so I am fairly well versed in the art of a Disney survival.

However, I still get just a little hacked off at the bloody rudeness that seems par for the course in a Disney Paris day.

Look, I know that Europeans don’t have a concept of queuing in the way that we stoic English people do, and I can tolerate the pushing in and the laissez-faire attitude that prevails, to some extent, but after almost two weeks in France ( and three days in Disney) it is starting to, frankly, get on my jolly well nerves.

Thing is, you can forget all about the concept of “personal space” when you’re here, as it doesn’t bloody well exist. That piece of the universe that you are (albeit temporarily) occupying? It’s not yours. It’s, basically, fair game. And just because your actual body is in that actual space, don’t for one single second assume that you are entitled to remain in it, because you’re not. People can, and will, attempt to occupy that same space at any and all times (and here’s the mind blowing bit to an English person like myself) whether you are in it already, or not. So you can either vacate it, or share it (physics notwithstanding), the latter option usually requiring some kind of time travel, or quantum leaping or something. Because these people will mow you down if you don’t move. And they won’t give a shiny shite. 

And, quite honestly, I have moved on from my ever-so-polite “excuse moi” requests to strangers, to a full-blown “fekkin move” demand.

So, just in case any of the continental Europeans who I met today are reading this, here’s some advice for you from the black-haired, quite angry looking, middle aged woman with the passive-aggressive muttering:

1) If you want to get past me, just say “excuse me” or “pardon” or whatever it is in your language, and I will happily, gladly and even joyfully skip out of your way, and allow you to pass. You will smile, I will smile and the world will seem that little bit lighter. Don’t, however, walk into me and keep on moving, as though you haven’t just barreled me over; don’t knock me out of the way with your bloody rucksack/balloon/bag/other; don’t – ever – run over my feet with your pushchair and continue to roll, as though it were a tank or similar; and don’t flick your fekkin fag ash over any part of me.  For these things, in any and all combinations, only serve to piss me off, to piss you off and to increase exponentially the headache-to-Brit quota in the park. The world is nicer if we simply acknowledge each other

Addendum to point 1: if you have done any of those things accidentally, simply say “sorry” or equivalent, and don’t just storm off as though it was me that was in the wrong simply by existing/breathing.

2) If you are waiting to go into the toilet cubicle, then please stand away from the frigging door. That way,  I can get out and you can go in and the earth will continue to turn. If you don’t move away from the frigging door then we have a bottleneck situation, where I can’t leave, you can’t enter and there’s just no point in either of us existing any more. This also goes for all of you people who want to board the trolley buses while I am exiting, and anyone standing in a doorway or exit. FRIGGING MOVE, YOU MORONS.

3) There is a special place in hell reserved for you people who are walking along, contributing to the healthy flow of pedestrian traffic, and who suddenly stop. If you’re going to stop, either take a cursory glance around to make sure there isn’t someone directly behind you (there usually is), or move to the side, safe in the assumption that in Europe’s busiest theme park, there is a small likelihood that you will not be on your own.

Either way, if you suddenly stop to look in your bag/talk to someone/take a selfie/other, then do not look at me as though I am the devil incarnate, when I walk into you. It’s going to happen, isn’t it, you twat?

4) if you want to photograph fekkin everything something, then just make sure that you’re not walking across and in front of someone (see points 1 & 3). Especially don’t take videos by criss-crossing and weaving your way sideways to the flow of traffic. This makes you a bellend, and I am likely to photobomb you, in a very British way.

5) And, in its own special category: rucksacks.

Right, I have a question for you. This is for anyone who it applies to, and specifically to the many people I saw today. What the hell is in your rucksack?

Seriously, though? I’m not talking abou small rucksacks, or bags – obviously it’s sensible to have a bag. I’m talking about full-on, luggage-style rucksacks. What’s in them? It’s not food. Bags are X-rayed before they come into the parks, and I’ve seen several people forced to throw picnics away at the gate. It’s not jackets, caps, sunglasses or cameras, because serial rucksack offenders usually have those as well.

What is in them? Are you people setting up tents or something?

On this holiday, there are 3 of us -I have a small handbag with the tickets, sunglasses and a camera. The husband carries Smallboy’s tiny rucksack. It has wet wipes, sun cream and water. We carry money on our persons. We wear our hats.

What else do people need, in such vast quantities?

Some families have several rucksacks. Look:

  Three rucksacks. Three adults and two children. Cameras, hats and jackets stored separately. What is in these beasts?


Two adults. Two rucksacks. No kids. Wtf?


What is this guy hauling? 

Genuinely interested in finding out.

The other thing about rucksacks is that they virtually double your body mass (I’m sorry for going on about this, but it has really become something of a mission.) People don’t seem to realise that they are manoeuvring around as wide-loads, with the rucksack. You can’t just be swinging round willy nilly – you’re going to smack someone in the chops. And in a queue situation, your rucksack is literally increasing thg queue time for the normal people. Not to mention the fact that you people can’t get though the barriers within the queue, without a massive amount of fuss, and getting on the ride and sodding storing the thing takes an extra 30 seconds per rucksacker. Multiply this up and the 70 minute queue time becomes 85.

So, be prepared to provide me with a detailed inventory of contents, or leave the frigger at home.

6) Queueing. Yes, these European Theme Parker’s queue jump. Yes, we knew this in advance. Yes, we realise it’s cultural. But, frankly, I cannot get my head around the fact that it’s anything other than bloody rudeness. If you see someone standing in front of you, who has been waiting for longer than you, then it’s their turn first, you ignorant shite bag. This goes for rides, toilet queues, parades….anything. Simply seeing a teeny weeny space in front of someone, and assuming you are entitled to fill it (see point 1) makes you a knob.

Quite honestly, the melee of people waiting for the entrance turnstiles to open, was akin to some kind of battle field or Black Friday sale. If we all wait our turns, life is smoother.

7) And, while I’m at it, there are more than two speeds. Slower-than-a-snail and Lightning-McQueen’s-faster-brother are not the only options. It is perfectly acceptable to walk at a tolerable pace. The afore mentioned two speeds, are largely to blame for points 1 and 3 above.

8) PDAs

Look – I like a bit of love, me. I’m not a cynic. But there is a time and a place, people, for gratuitous displays of carnal desire. The queue for the Tower of Terror at 4:20pm is neither of those things.

I was queuing on my own (the husband stayed with Smallboy, who was categorically NOT going to go anywhere near that ride) and had a French couple with three kids in front of me, and a Spanish couple with one child behind me. Those two couples were constantly going at it with the full-on tonsil tennis. Twice I had to move the couple in front on, and how the couple behind me managed to hold off without booking themselves a room, I just don’t know. I’m happy they were in love. Really. But, I don’t need to see the bulge of a guy’s tongue from the outside of his wife’s cheek. And as for the roaming hands – I felt like I was in some 18 movie audience, with a row of horny teenagers. But the worse part of it was, the French couple’s youngest daughter (presumably in the absence of any parental attention) felt the need to entertain me throughout the queue. She danced, she sang, she jumped up and down, she span, she swang, she chatted in French… It was hugely annoying, particularly as I’d managed to bag half an hour off from my own little bundle of firecrackers.

So – PDAs? Non!

And now I have resolved all of the issues that have been weighing down heavily on me in the 28 degree heat, I feel as though we are all closer as a continent.

Bon Nuit, Europe…


I’m Still 40!

I am feeling a bit reflective; I wrote a bit when I turned 40, but because that month itself was such a downer, I didn’t really write anything of any great note. The husband had just lost his job, and was feeling the effects of leaving behind the career he had loved for 20 years, and my big-bang 40th birthday party itself was a washout; not least because about half of the people who were invited, turned the invitation down, and then about half of the people who said they were coming, just didn’t. It didn’t help that other acquaintances have turned 40 this year, and had a whale of a time.

So, when I wrote my “goodbye 30s” eulogy, it focussed very much on how rubbish I felt at that time, and not really on how I felt about moving on to another decade. However, 5 and a half months in, I’m about ready!

So, I’m 40. And it’s not so scary any more. Heading towards 40 was a bit horrible, if I’m honest. It didn’t seem as though it referred to me, but not because I “still felt 25” or any of those clichés, just that 40 seemed so very old. And, of course, it turns out that it is quite old, but only a bit older than 39, and the really good thing about being 40 is that you can say “I’m 40” and it gives you a licence to be a bit more frank with people. And the other good thing is, that even if that’s not really an acceptable excuse; YOU ACTUALLY DON’T CARE.

Of course, this is nothing to do with actually being 40 – there’s no bolt of lightning or cosmically ordered change that occurs (unfortunately) because age is a human-made construct and we only link age with our perception of it. etcetera. But, somehow, that has appealed to me, and I have become 40 and grumpy. And I am really enjoying it.

In true reflective spirit, I should be looking back on my 30s, but my 30s were very much dominated by one thing, which was very much defined by one event that happened about 2 months after my 30th birthday. I went to see a doctor about something trivial, and whilst he was browsing through my notes, he said “and, of course, you’re infertile.” Which was news to me. When he saw my jaw hit the floor, instead of being a bit apologetic or contrite in any way, he followed it up with “it must make it easier that you both are infertile. This way, you’re both to blame.”

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight and my straight talking ‘tude, I should have bloody well hauled him across the coals; for his mistake, his reaction and his refusal to take responsibility for the downward spiral that ensued. What was that noise? Oh, that was just my future smashing into little pieces, and the sound of my heart breaking a million times.

So, because of that, the next 6 years were pretty much spoken for. Particularly as (apologies for the TMI) we’d spent the previous 2 years “trying naturally.”

So, I can’t remember much else about my 30s. Lots of hospital visits, job changes (because we needed to somehow fund our medical enigmas) lots of tests and waiting and probably some other stuff. I really don’t know what else. Because, what happened was, all of our friends and acquaintances started to have their children, and add to their families. And the ones that didn’t? Well, they already had theirs. And so, out of self-preservation and sanity, we had to withdraw from the social scenes around us. When you are “sans enfant” and the rest of the world isn’t, it’s like a big fat club that you don’t belong to. And the only invitations you get are out of pity, or a misguided desire to include you in something. And it’s hard not to be sensitive, or emotional, because it’s your whole entire life. And nobody really understands.

After the IVF came adoption. Which was even more intrusive with much less chance of turning out positively. And something that we had to do almost entirely on our own. So even after 6 years of my 30s, we were still flying solo, and on a path that was alien not only to us but to everyone around us. And, I guess, we still are.

So my 30s was spent distancing myself from those around me, and from people who had been my friends, allies and compadres throughout my 20s. And when I hit 40, they were notable by their absence.

There’s no one to blame for this, I guess. It’s not their fault and it’s not mine, but the one thing I take away from my transition from 30s to 40s, is that I think most people spend their 30s cultivating, maintaining and nourishing friendships old and new. I spent mine distancing myself from people in order to protect my emotionally battered heart, and not making new friends because, ironically,  I spent my final years of child-free evenings researching, working, planning and writing our 40,000 word “parenting application”

And now, I pay the piper. The husband has a new job which takes him away from us for many evenings, so now I CAN’T go out (because of child care issues – natch) and because all the friends I used to have, fell by the wayside during my wilderness years.

Of course, the end result is worth any amount of sacrifice, and there’s nothing that would induce me to change it, knowing what I now have.

I am an older mother, through necessity not choice. And I am. I know people of my age who have grandchildren who are older than my son. So part of my exclusion from social delights is because, at an age where many of my friends are rediscovering their nightlife, I am still reading bedtime stories, singing number songs and watching CBeebies. But those other factors, outlined above, still niggle at me and a little part of me wonders that other 40 year olds seem to be able to have a family AND friends. You can count mine on the fingers of one hand – and I haven’t seen any of them since 2013.

40 is just a state of mind, I’m told. It’s not; it’s also a state of chronology and a number. I haven’t ticked many things off my bucket list, but that’s OK, because I just keep adding to it.

My 30s didn’t pan out how I expected, but I did start a job I loved, founded a theatre group I adored, and appeared in more than 40 TV shows (yes, really) so it can’t have all been bad.

But my 40s are already better than my 30s, because I start them with my little boy at my side, and I can’t wait for the next 10 years.





Goodbye Dirty Thirties…

I turned 40 last week. And I turned 40 to a rather large fanfare – in my own head.

I had debated for a good while whether or not I was going to bother acknowledging it, or run away and hide, but as it approached and I remembered that I am no longer young, free and supple, I decided to embrace it, enjoy it and celebrate it. So I had a party.

What a palaver.

Let me start out by saying that it was a wonderful evening – I had a great time, lots of brilliant friends and family came to celebrate with me, and I felt loved, drunk and happy. This is not about the party or the result of the party – this is about the fact that finally, at 40, I have realised that although I have lots of amazing friends who are there for me, I also have “friends” who are just going to let me down.

I set up a Facebook event around 7 months before the party and contacted people to “save the date” advising that invitations would go out nearer the time. I confirmed addresses and duly created, printed and posted proper invitations to people. Around 80 people got back to me. Around 60 people did not respond.

I waited a short while, and then contacted them all again – text/email/facebook – you know where it tells you if people read it or not. From this “chasing up” I got about 30 replies, eventually. All of whom declined, the week before the party.

Now let me just confirm – these are not acquaintances or people I don’t know very well – these people are my friends.

The “declines” fell broadly into 3 categories:

1) The Ignorers

They literally did not reply to me. I haven’t heard from any of them since

2) The Elaborate Excusers

“I would like to come, but I have a friend whose wife left him 2 weeks ago, and I need to be around for him in case he needs me” – So you are not going to make any plans or go out to work or have your own life in any way “just in case?” I am your friend too.

“I won’t know what I’m working until the date of your party” I just don’t believe this. If coming to my party was in any way important to you, you would find a way to find out. Also you are a f*cking postman and have had that job for 20 years.

“I think I’m going on holiday, but I don’t know what date I’m flying yet” Well – lets hope you find out before the plane takes off

“I had pneumonia last week, and still don’t think I’ll feel very well” Sorry to hear that. I see, however, that you’ve been at work and are going to a gig on Saturday. Still – if you can see into the future, then you know best

“My mum is on holiday, so I can’t get a lift” No other cars/trains/buses/taxis in the world?

3) The Maybes

“I am definitely going to be there if I can, but I’m going to be in Leicester and my car has been playing up, and it might not get me back in time” You’re not coming, are you?

“I am out earlier on in the evening, and I don’t know what time the other event finishes” You’re not coming, are you?

“It all depends on whether or not my hours at work are going to change” You’re not coming, are you?

(None of them came)

But there are two worse types of party-denyers:

a) the ones who said they were coming, and then just didn’t turn up. And didn’t say “Happy Birthday”, didn’t send a card, and haven’t asked me if I had a good day.

b) the liars.

Yes, I have friends who think absolutely nothing of lying to me, and then failing to cover their backs by not keeping up the lie on their social networking sites

“I am going on holiday and fly on the day of your birthday party” – negated by the photo of her at a concert in a nearby city the night after the party, and a photo of her and her husband 2 days after having lunch in a nearby stately home

“I am having an emergency operation that has now been scheduled in for that day” – negated by the twitter feed which was updated hourly throughout the day discussing the rubbish day at work she had, and then tweeting photos of herself in a pub at night

“I am already at another party that night” – negated by the Facebook status: “Friday nights are so boring – TV and wine for me”

“I’m at a gig, sorry” negated by the fact that the gig mentioned was actually the following week.

I know that not everyone wants to come to a party. I realise now that not everyone likes me as much as I thought they did, but I cannot understand why these elaborate and strange excuses happen. If you don’t want to come – don’t come! It’s simple. You don’t even have to give me a reason if you don’t want to. “No, sorry” does actually work.

I think I’ve worked it out, though – because I had a lot of “maybes” and none of them came. I knew they wouldn’t. But it was obvious to me that they didn’t want to lose friendship points by giving me an outright “no”, so thought they would come up with a really good and valid reason not to come, but at the same time pledging to try their hardest to overcome the adversity, and therefore stll ensure their friendship status. All the time having zero intention of attending.

Because, frankly, if you don’t know what you’re working until the day in question, you need to sort that out with your HR. If you don’t think your car will make it back, then you need to fix that. Or spend the intervening fortnight thinking of another way to move from one place to another. If you are keeping an evening free on the offchance a friend might want you, remember that you have other friends who definitely do want you. If you’re going to fake an operation, remember that I follow you on Twitter. Which is timestamped.

Beause the fact is, these are all excuses and not reasons. And if it was important to you to be there, then you would have found a way. If your daughter was getting married, would you have just accepted that your work timetable hadn’t been published? No. You’d have found a way. Now, look –  I’m not saying my 40th birthday party is as important as being the Father of the Bride; I am highlighting the fact that if you’d have wanted to be there, then you would have been.

You all just made choices, and your choice wasn’t me.

So I am just going to accept that there are people in my life who are not there for me, who aren’t interested in me and who don’t want to spend time with me when it’s important to me. And that’s OK.

Because there are people in my life who wouldn’t have missed it for the world. People who drove around for 2 hours because they were lost, and nearly ran out of petrol, but who didn’t give up and still got there, because they cared. People who went into pubs to ask for directions in full 1970s costume and wigs, because they cared. People who went to the trouble of buying me thoughtful and personal gifts, because they cared. People who got up and danced with me on my birthday, despite not loving the music, because they cared. People who are my friends.

So, now I’ve got that off my chest, I’m focusing on those people. On the ones who are on my photos, who I can look back and laugh with. On the ones who bought me a drink and called me an old fart. On the ones who threw up out of the car window, and the ones who took all the rubbish home in their car so we would get our deposit back. Because they are my friends.

And the rest of you? Life is too short, and now I’m (hopefully) about half-way through, I’m going to spend it with people who plough through excuses and actually make it.

Happy birthday, Bectora. Happy streamlining.