Tuesday 18 April 2017

Another year, another birthday: Escape from Shepherd’s Bush.

Mummy on the Edge
Families North West London
Jan/Feb 2017

Many years ago (everything is a blur), I started writing a novel. A minor strand included a ridiculously inconceivable reality TV show called “Bed the Celeb”, the premise of which was that a number of plebs were marooned on a desert island with a d-list celeb and the winner was the one that did. And then whaddya know, Celebrity Love Island was born on ITV. (I know, you are blown away by my unparalleled prescience but where am I going with this in a magazine about kids. Stay with me...)

An equally preposterous strand that I could have myself invented ten years ago in the plot of a dystopian novel set in 2017 (had I got ON my backside and actually written a whole one) is the idea of an Escape Room as an immersive entertainment experience. Picture it: Donald Trump has been elected Governor of Texas or somewhere (-even I would never have guessed POTUS). Spoilt kids, addicted to little portable flat-screens, bored with reality, choose to be locked in a room and made to solve clues, find keys and decode erm… codes in order to escape.

Has the world gone mad?! Well, yes, it has. And have I, that I should spend money on this for Midi-Me and her friends? Yes but only partially, coz I got a deal on Groupon.

And before purchasing the offer, I carried out an extensive cost vs benefit analysis on turning my entire house into a multi-layered escape room: I could lock them in the bathroom leaving them to polish all surfaces of congealed toothpaste and they would be released once they had figured out how to use the electronic weighing scale that has 3 buttons, the pressing of none of which currently makes the machine tell me how much I weigh when I stand on it. Next, my bedroom. The task? To decipher manufacturing codes on all skin care and make up, throw away anything more than 3 years old and arrange all remaining items by colour with no gaps in the Muji drawers provided. Next, Midi-Me’s bedroom. Change sheets (including hospital corners) and duvet cover, organise bookshelf alphabetically and locate missing bank card. Et cetera around the rest of the house.

Anyway, this wouldn’t have worked for me because it would have required too much effort. I’m the type of person who has to pre-clean for an hour before the cleaner arrives and she still shakes her head as she enters. Having Midi-Me’s friends searching every dusty corner and top shelf for clues would send me over the edge. Escape room, here, take my money.  

Keep walking down Uxbridge Road away from Westfield and the tube station and as you pass the newish chain restaurants and the market, you edge closer to the less salubrious end of Shepherd’s Bush, where a drunk might (and did) whisper in your ear as they pass you, dancing to the beat of their own footsteps. This is the location of Escape London (escape-london.co.uk). The girls descended the stairs behind the black door and quickly shoved their stuff in the lockers provided. Nice Young Chap gave them safety spiel and basic instructions before locking them in the room which is serviced by two cameras.  

I sat in front of the CCTV next to Nice Young Chap, scoffing my Lebanese pastry, sipping tea, and chortling at the incompetence of Midi-Me and her friends rattling drawers, rummaging through papers and tapping keys on a manual typewriter. Every time they got stuck they had to wave at the camera and Nice Young Chap would feed them a part-answer which would appear on a screen inside the room. I felt like Big Brother. I wanted to grab the mic and say in my best Geordie accent “Midi-Me, you have been evicted. Please leave the room.” But there wasn’t one. By the time they had finished, I was qualified for a job at GCHQ. The girls escaped only with lots of help and some extra minutes. (So much for all the verbal and non-verbal reasoning skills they supposedly acquired during the 11-plus.)

The Da Vinci Room was tricky for these 14/ 15 year olds but they had a blast. If you plan to go with younger children you should probably opt for the Area 51 room and possibly go in with them (max 6 people).

Alternatively, you could always lock them in your kitchen.

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