I had decided that the theme for our activities was going be nature, because I wanted Izzy to see some wildlife outside their normal context of roadkill. And with this in mind, we headed off to the Sutton Courtenay Nature Reserve - a place that had been advertising children's activities for the summer holidays.
"Izzy," I said in the car, "we are going to experience nature in its natural habitat."
"What's habitat?" Izzy asked.
"It's like the outdoor house that animals live in," I replied inadequately, turning up the radio in the car to avert further questions.
It worked and Izzy started singing along to Razorlights, 'America' which, in truth, is wholly inappropriate for a five year old.
Once we arrived at the Nature Reserve, I marched up to the Reserve's reception desk and said: "We would like to sample some of your nature and your finest children's activities as well please."
"No problem," smiled the lady behind the desk (nature nuts are always 'nice', it's from all that lovin' animals), "that'll be £2.50 please."
Blimey, nature had gone up since last time I experienced it. That'll be inflation then.
"So what's first then?" I asked Mrs Nice once she had prised the money out of my cold, clenched fists.
"Pond dipping," she said, "over at the pond." Unsurprisingly.
"What's that bloody hell's pond dipping?" I asked.
"One of our helpers will explain once you are there," she replied.
It took five minutes to walk to the pond, and I have to say, Izzy was pretty excited by the time we got there. We headed towards the helper, and I said, "we'd like to do some pond dipping please."
"No problem," she smiled (also terribly nice), "get one of those nets over there and dip it gently into the pond, decanting what you catch into one of these white trays," she said, thrusting one into my hand.
"So basically it's just fishing?" I asked her.
The horrified expression on her face told me that it wasn't. "No," she said, "we are looking for all manner of wildlife." These nature types are very defensive of their wildlife techniques [note to reader: if you are at a nature reserve and see a spider, don't shout "UGH there's a spider! Kill it!" because they don't like that either].
So there we were, balancing precariously on a muddy pond bank and going in for the 'catch'. The helper was watching us, and after dipping our net into the pond three times she shouted to us; "that'll be enough now."
Izzy and I scrambled back up the bank and poured the contents of our net into the white tray.
"Oh how exciting!" exclaimed the helper, "this is best variety of wildlife we have had all day."
Izzy and I peered into the white tray; "You are obviously seeing something that I'm not" I said, "I can only see green sludgy stuff."
Pic.No.1. Izzy not fishing... most definitely pond dipping... yeh
"There!" she pointed; "you've two fish, a water beetle and some mosquito larvae."
Call me a cynic, but it wasn't the haul I was expecting. In fact, I was coming to the conclusion that nature was a bit crap.
"We can have those fish for dinner," I said to Izzy, pointing at them and laughing my head off.
Izzy guffawed heartily in return, but Helper looked shocked beyond belief; "Oh no, you must put them back," she said seriously.
"Erm, it was a joke," I pointed out to Helper; "the fish they are no more than half an inch long, and even though I could do with going on a diet, that fish would be taking things to extremes."
"Oh sorry, of course," Helper laughed laughed nervously.
"Anyway, we've done pond dipping," I said. "What's next on the agenda?"
Helper looked totally relieved: "A bug hunt," she said thrusting a piece of paper into my hands. It was a list of ten different bugs.
"What do we do with this then?" I asked
"There are pictures of these bugs hidden throughout the nature reserve, and you have to find them and tick them off the list," she replied.
"Cool," I said to Izzy, "you understand what you are supposed to do?"
"Yeh of course," she replied indignantly like she had done a bug hunt every day of her life.
"Ok good. Now you are going to be Dora, and you are responsible for finding the bugs, and my name is Diego and I am responsible for writing the bugs' names onto our list." I said. Can you see the natural leader in me coming out? Yep, I felt the need to delegate even to a five year old. I shudder to think of the results of my Inkblot test.
Izzy, as always, threw herself into the task with gusto and rushed around with me lumbering and
Pic.No.2. This is Dennis the dinosaur. We stumbled upon him on our bug hunt. He's not real..... obviously ..... because he's extinct .... and made of metal
Pic.No.3. This was the 'Sound Garden' that we found on our expedition. It was a series of different sized metal tubes that you hit with a spoon. Izzy played on them for forty five (yep 45) minutes. Anyone got any paracetamol / Valium / self-administered weaponry I can borrow?
So, fast-forward a while. The sun was starting to set, and Izzy had found nine out of the ten bugs. We had spent the last hour trying to track down the elusive 'snail' but he wasn't to be found anywhere. As I saw it, we had two choices: 1. Set-up base camp and continue our search in the morning; or 2. Abandon our search for the damned snail and head home.
Despite Izzy insisting that she would like to live in the Nature Reserve until she had found the snail (she was soooo proud of herself for finding the other bugs), I decided against it. I mean, it would be downright weird for me and a five year old to sleep under a bush in a Nature Reserve because we hadn't found a picture of a snail. Especially all those people walking past us and pointing. I dread to think what Social Services would make of me trying to explain that one.
So we headed home, and to my great suprise, Izzy gabbled all the way home about what a good time she had had. Blimey, five year olds are really easily amused! How cool is that? She said that 'fishing' (her words not mine) was great fun, and that she 'loved' the bug hunt. Jeez, I am such a good parent - I didn't see that coming.
Me, on the other hand, woke up at 2am that night sweating about not finding the snail. Seriously, I had a dream and I was manically running around only to be met with dead ends, and empty places. And I had been frantically digging my pillow. That's not right is it?
Next installment of 'back to nature' coming soon....... in the meantime, has anyone else got any summer holiday tales?