We turned up all relaxed like, and immediately had to enter a cavernous concrete maze of pay and display parking that looked like it'd been designed by MC Escher during his oft-forgotten "daft" phase. £3 if you're going to be more than an hour. I was immediately irked, and I hadn't even exited the car yet. I could feel my irk-gland throbbing. "No more irking", it seemed to beg.
I used the time-honoured display of righteous anger used by generations of Englishmen when confronted by monosyllabic hordes out to get what they can from you, be it blood, land or money, and I tutted. Quite loudly as well. That'll teach the blighters. I then followed tiny, tiny signs through labyrinthine lanes, eventually finding the exit and parking the dependant-mobile in a nearby alleyway instead. I can't stand the idea of paying for the privilege of spending my own money. It makes me want to harrumph.
After paying a local urchin £3 to watch the vehicle, we wandered over to what was essentially a giant shopping mall, past fluorescent vested parking Nazis intent on you not parking anywhere for free (Ha! Suck on my free space, motor-fascists), past the strangely popular brass band welcoming people on this, the second day of it's opening, and avoiding eye-contact with shiny-suited employees determined to persuade you, by grimacing example, that you will have fun, damn you!
It was like entering Hell itself.
I checked to see if there were any triple-headed hounds hiding behind the oompah band, or maybe a diverted canal called the Styx, but no. I think the ferryman had been reallocated a position at the parking barriers, his long, bony, fleshless hands quite useful for getting gum out of the ticket slots.
"A coin to cross the barrier, oh lost and doom-ed soul of Gloucester. We also take Visa."
It was filled with shiny-faced crowds, sweating with the effort of spending money and scrabbling to get to bargains that would only be on sale for the next three or four years. There were quite a few empty shops, which made me wonder as to the wisdom of expecting a new retail outlet to do well in the middle of a global recession.
Still, we thought we would enter the fray, join in, make the most of it, pretend that we wanted to be there. We'd driven ten miles so we owed it to ourselves to make the effort. I took a breath, forced a little smile at my family, and strode forth into the breach.
After ten minutes I was so close to taking all my clothes off and screaming "KNIVES!" outside Marks and Spencer's that the Missus suggest we cut our losses and fight our way back out, like spawning salmon having second thoughts about all that 'dying for a shag' business after all, and nipping back downstream to the beach, thank you very much.
Now, I don't have any phobias, but if anything comes close, it's jabbering crowds of shoppers combined with limited escape routes. They make the vein in the side of my head throb like when you accidentally slam your penis in the fridge door a few times.
You know . . .
What? I said accidentally . . .
Moving on . . .
So I needed somewhere to recuperate, and the good lady missus, noticing the cracks in my clenched teeth, suggested we make our way to the wetlands trust at Slimbridge.
What better way than a quick walk around the local bird sanctuary that I love, occasionally lobbing birdseed just out of reach of unappreciative overweight ducks. I love doing that. Nothing waddles more amusingly than a fat duck. Even the fit, healthy ones waddle, so you can imagine what the obese ones are like.
I could feel the stress hormones in my brain return to their normal levels. I took a quick picture of those mad Crested Screamers I like, but mainly because they looked like they only had one matching pair of legs between them:
I exhaled for the first time in four hours and all was suddenly well.
I could enjoy the day without other living things invading my personal space, or poking me for reasons known only to themselves.
Then I had a close encounter with a psychotic moorhen, who seemed to take exception to my epidermis, and so tried to remove as much of it as possible with it's beak. We took a spot of video, partly because that sort of attack doesn't happen every day, but mainly to show the sympathy I got from my loving offspring as I was mauled by a wild creature. He's off camera, but I think you'll get the gist:
The whole day was like two polar opposites of torment and enjoyment. I was thinking that many people might concur with this, only suggesting the good and bad parts are in fact the other way round. For some, the idea of spending an hour or two in the cold, looking at birds and getting all excited because you saw a Kingfisher for half a second might be anathema to their sensibilities.
I can respect that, in the same way I respect people who eat grapefruit. I don't understand it, but I respect it.
At least you don't get pecked very often in a shopping mall.