The story so far

Monday, 7 September 2009

Castles of France and Australia

Earlier this week, we went to Disneyland in Paris. Again, this was an opportunity which we would not get in Australia so a last chance to visit Disney, which according to Hannah every child should experience.

I had never been to Disney as a child and wondered how life would have been different for me if I had. Then I thought about all those Australian children who also can't easily get to Disney. It doesn't seem to affect them too badly. Is this because it is not necessary to go to Disneyland as a child or does Australia have something just as good which helps them get though the challenged of childhood? Either way I slept easy that night knowing that my kids would get a bit of Disney and a bit of whatever the Aussie kids were getting.

I think while on holiday, my mind has a tendancy to wander. With no work to worry about I tend to start thinking too much about things. No good every came from that. But that is why the thought hit me! Only a few years ago, while in Australia I had visited an Australian "Slice of Disney" called The Macadamia Castle. I happen to know of similar attractions all over Australia. While Austalians don't have Disney, they have mini Disney drip fed to them throughout childhood and it struck me that this might be the answer.

More on that later, but first a bit about "The Disney Experience" to give a view of the magic to behold.

I was not looking forwards to my three days at Disney. It was to be my worst nightmare: queuing, screaming kids and fur clad characters hassling you 24-7. I was partly right but only partly.

It was largely aimed at children but did seem to attract large numbers of childless adults. Ignoring the ones in Micky Mouse Ears and Wizard Hats, at least half seemed well adjusted. And I can see the attraction. The buildings were finished with amazing detail, there was some real scientific and historical interest and there was lots of really weird and magical sights to hold the interest.

Among my favorites was the beanstalk from Jack and the beanstalk. Some of the other vegetables seemed to have become infected and there were giant carrots and onions too. The whole scene was amazing with buildings looking like real fairytale cottages. It looked like a great place to drink a tankard of ale with a mysterious robed north man with few words to say. They didn't serve beer.

It did strike up a feeling of Magic in me though, that is the point. And the kids were swept away without the scepticism of adulthood.

At centre stage in Disney is Sleepin Beauty's palace. This really is the pinnacle of full scale fantasy and even has a pretty realistic live dragon on the cave below

Each morning there is a chance to meet one of the Disney Princesses. This is a real spectacle in which brightly dressed beauties hold court to endless lines of adoring young fans.

We arrived before the start to make sure we got a good spot in the queue, but already the line in front of the main stage was snaking back and forth three times. We took our spot in the queue and waited, with nothing to do but observe the behavior of other parents and their kids. This was an interesting study in itself and will be the subject of my next blog entry.

One aspect of the queuing irked me. People would let people in they knew. I guess this is normal behaviour, but each new child would add a couple of minutes to our waiting time. This in itself was bad enough but when coupled with the fact that Esme has Gremlin-like tendancies, we were really concerned.

What I mean to say is that Esme goes hyperactive if left unoccupied for a long time or if you add water.

What annoyed me more than the waiting though, was the fact that other kids had autograph books. Zoe and Esme noticed this and of course wanted them too. Hannah and I had prepared hard for this trip and we had been let down by other parents encouraging a culture of fake autograph hunting. These are not real princesses, but actresses dressed up and pretending to be the real thing.

In an effort to ease The girls' anguish at not having a book, I set about explaining the futility of collecting such signatures, only to recieve a look from Hannah equivalent to a kick in the shins.

Her look however began to change. I detected in her eyes a hunger, almost bordering on greed or lust. I followed her gaze and saw a second queue forming by a smaller podium. Hannah simply whispered a single urgent command: "Go!". I knew what was expected of me.

I chose to pursue a stealthy approach, nonchelantly setting off without fuss, aiming to attract little attention. My pace soon picked up when I sensed competition from two other fathers with similar ideas. One of them was a Spaniard. I looked around and noted though, that we were the only three heading that way; I slowed down allowing them into the queue ahead of me, while alone maintaining my air of sophistication and dignity.

I was in the queue, only 20 metres from the front and then before my eyes appeared an image of pure loveliness. It was Ariel, the little mermaid but she was anything but little. She was six foot tall, had dazzling natural red hair and a beautiful turquoise dress. What's more she is Zoe's favorite Disney princess.

I beckoned the girls over and they joined me in the queue. I looked at the Italian family behind, barely concealing the triumph of getting my girls so far forward on the queue.

I was looking forward to having my photo taken with Ariel, but it gradually dawned on me that none of the other parents were participating.

When our turn came, Ariel made a big fuss of Zoe and Esme as it was Zoe's birthday. They were both thrilled and danced around Disneyland for the rest of the day.

Words from Zoe on her trip to Disneyland:

"It was Fun. Ariel was nice and I loved getting my photo taken with Ariel. It was a lovely day every day. It was nice and warm but a little bit cold. Every day it was warm. It was lovely. The weather was nice and there were lots of people out. Everyone enjoyed the princess, there were lots of people queuing up and it was the best day ever. Everyone enjoyed it. I had a lovely special birthday."

The Macadamia Castle by contrast is quite different to Sleeping Beauty's castle but both are symbols which well represent the underlying ethos of the relevant attractions.

The Macadamia castle makes no pretence to be anything but some brightly painted plywood battlements bolted to the top of an industrial Macadamia nut production facility. It comes with some kids attractions: a wildlife park, activity park and treehouse. It basically adds a fun and fantasy element to a great Australian product and probably the best nut in the world.

It sells macadamia nuts in various flavours including Wasabi and chilli. It also supplies other macadamia nut related novelties. I am led to believe, Aussies come from miles around to visit. I do not believe they would do this for a basic nut shop.

While not as grand as Disneyland, the Macadamia castle is part of a vast network of such attractions including facilities dedicated to the banana, cow and lobster. When viewed as a single entity, this network rivals Disney in the variety and depth of experience it offers.

The Aussie approach is different but by no means inferiour to Disney. they differ in that the Australians bring an element of fun and fantasy to real life. The Macadamia nut is a real nut and the lobster is a real marine crustaceon. Glorifying the honest but magnificent products of Australia provides the kids with fun and purpose in believing in and learning about real Australian science and culture.

Disneyland by contrast is not a real place, but makes up for this by the realism, magnificence and attention to detail which made both me and the kids gaze in awe. It is pure fantasy which surely helps develop the imagination?

My conclusion is that the castles of Australia and Disney are both important. Pure fantasy or fantasy based on reality are both key in develoing childhood imagination and intellect.

As a child, I got neither.......