Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Kidzania, the kid's theme park, for grown ups.

For reasons lost to time I recently went to an adults-only night at Kidzania, a new educational theme park for kids housed in a very high up part of Westfield Shepherd's Bust that not even Westfield knew existed until recently.

To start with - I'm writing this from the perspective of a 32-year old visiting a kid's attraction where the point is to pretend to be a grown-up. 7-year old me would have given this at least five stars. As an actual grown-up, it's a fun albeit slightly sinister experience, although the novelty of wandering the plastic cobbles of a miniaturised city does wear off rather sharply.

The idea of Kidzania is that the younguns can try out various 'jobs' and tasks to earn cash (Kidzos, of which I now have a bag-load) which they can either bank for future visits (so sensible) or spend on other activities or merchandise like face-painting or pencil sharpeners (importantly at adults' night, not wine). You wander the brightly-coloured streets of Kidzania popping in to various shops and facilities to try your hand at whatever career tickles your fancy, from dentistry to journalism. At sporadic intervals the staff jump out of their designated areas for a coordinated dance routine, like some kind of bizarre mind control drug has kicked in.

On Grown Ups' Night quite a few of the activities were closed (I wanted to make a burger!) and it wasn't possible to swap the currency for gifts, so we essentially became Kidzania millionaires, making it rain with handfuls of Kidzos. Confusingly, the fun jobs (fire brigade, chocolate making etc) charge you to take part while the rest pay you for your time. Slightly jarring lesson there, kids. Nobody was interested in attending the Kidzana University to increase our salaries, probably because there was nothing to buy, so that corner remained steadfastly empty throughout the evening.

Throughout, there is the slight sense of being perpetually brainwashed, as each job is sponsored by a corporation. Come and try on the H&M clothes! Come and be a Capital FM presenter! Come and fly a BA plane! Come and hack into the Talk Talk website!

Highlights for me included being a journalist (permission to hassle the people with proper jobs), being a courier (permission to barge in to the other attractions to pick up parcels) and being a tour guide (making up historical facts). It was also great to have the run of the place and not queue for anything - workers told horrified tales of hour-long queues to make a fake Mini Milk lolly.

Unhighlights included being told off for squeezing too many of us into the fire engine because 'it's supposed to be for kids' (no! really? You let us in!) and a few fairly grumpy staff members who had clearly been forced to work late to supervise the wine-fuelled behaviour of a load of hipsters keen for an 'ironic' and 'immersive' experience. I can imagine the fist-pumping summer-camp trained crew in the American Kidzania branches really bringing this to life - in West London the enthusiasm is not quite yet at full par.

Mysteriously absent on 'grown up' night were the opportunities to waste your life in a banal office job for decades, the chance to experience the sweaty delights of a two-hour round-trip commute, and the thrill of handing over all your cash to the Bank of Kidzania at the end of every month. Perhaps the intricate set should be altered for the next adult edition to include a newly-opened cereal cafe (with the opportunity to hurl bricks through the windows at terrified customers), Haribo dealers lurking in the doorways, abandoned vermin-infested sofas by the side of the road or a derelict pub full of squatters.

Oh! I'm being mean! Take your kids, they'll bloody love it. You get to give someone a filling, for god's sake!

2 comments:

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