I paused nervously outside the crowded entrance and attempted to steel myself for what lay behind the door.
So many had warned me that Soft Play is a hellish place.
My mind swam with horror stories of over-age children running riot, broken striplights shattering glass into urine-soaked ball pools, while oblivious parents stared zombie-like at their phones. And the cautions of weak, over-priced coffee rang in my ears.
But I was determined to experience the truth for myself.
I had persuaded a friend to join me for moral support, a fellow Soft Play virgin. And together we had made a pact to enter that dark and dangerous world once and for all.
Upon arrival we found ourselves confronted with a mass of writhing, whooping bodies, bouncing around a padded enclosure. This was surrounded by tables seating an audience of stoic observers, sipping coffee and affecting a bored attitude as they chatted or scrolled through their phones, pretending to ignore the action.
My friend and I had intended to join these voyeurs. But new to the game and late to the party we found the only remaining table was the farthest away, and could not be seen from inside the dungeon.
When we threw our toddlers into the middle and attempted to retreat to the sidelines, they soon began looking around for us for reassurance.
The pen had a low, loose sliding bolt which all the older children were able to unlock, in order to dash to their table to down some Fruit Shoot and stuff some crisps in their mouth, leaving the gate to Hades wide open.
Simply shooing our own kids back inside was not an option. And it soon became clear that in order to persuade them they wanted to stay in the heart of the action, we would have to cross over to the other side ourselves.
After downing our (perfectly acceptable) coffee for Dutch courage we stripped off our shoes and tiptoed timidly into the cavern of ropes and mesh and rubber.
At first we hung about coyly at the ‘Under Two’s’ end. We threw a few balls around in the ball pool, giggling coquettishly and attempted to build a slide out of geometric cushions.
But my heart began to race with excitement when my daughter scrambled out of the ball pool and hurtled down a dark tunnel lined with netting, squashy batons dangling from above. What could I do but follow her lead?
Before I knew it I was crawling through the tunnel after her, not without some trepidation. A hoard of older boys dived through a hole in some mesh at the other end and whizzed towards us. Everyone seemed to bounce off each other in every direction, before landing in a heap, laughing.
My daughter was exhilarated and began dashing back and forth, unfazed by any rougher, tougher bodies that shouldered past her.
I gazed with longing at the large wavy slide on the level above, clearly this play area’s ultimate thrill, and guided my daughter to the squidgy steps that led up to it.
For every other step she ascended towards the pleasure dome, she fell at least one back down, so she obviously needed me there by her side.
I followed behind her, slowly climbing towards the tantalising risks that spread out above us.
Soon I was racing on all fours in gay abandon, along a gauntlet of padded obstacles and punch bags towards a gaping hole that dropped down into a ball pool below. I felt like I had finely made it onto Gladiators after all these years.
Why was this place supposed to be so hellish? Why have so many bloggers devoted pages and pages of warnings about the torture of Soft Play? I was having so much fun. And it didn’t even smell of wee.
There surely must be others like me? Parents who actually enjoy bouncing and sliding and climbing. Am I some kind of masochist? Are parents like me the reason everyone else hates Soft Play?
I glanced furtively around me at the other inhabitants of this maze of primary colours and animal shapes.
My friend and I were not the only adults who had taken the plunge. But it gradually became clear that the other people over the age of four were childminders, paid for their time.
There are no names in Soft Play. But I exchanged some understanding smiles with a young South African nanny, who I enviously watched glide down the slide with glee.
I did not dare to be so wild on my first foray into Soft Play. But I will be going back for more.
Do you think Soft Play is heaven or hell? What is your worst Soft Play experience?