In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the protagonist, Nick, describes a party in a New York apartment as containing the ‘inexhaustible variety of life.’ This quote occurred to me after a weekend of shifts at Center Parcs (the lord of manufactured holidays). Somewhere between 1920s America and 2022 rural England, I think we have gone wrong. 

Brits on holiday is a well-documented phenomenon. Post A-levels, like most of the girls in my year, my friends and I went to a particularly cheap hotel in Tenerife. My boyfriend, like most of boys in my year, went to the Magalufian equivalent. In these pits of human indecorum, throwing up in the streets, drinking cheap beer and speakers are all essential. Sleep? Fruit and vegetables? Dignity? All these things appeared merely optional. But we already know this story, the reputation of British teens on holiday has been well established. What has been allowed to go undocumented for far too long, what could be a veritable oasis for the average Brit-on-holiday hater, are the British woodland resorts known as Center Parcs.

The most expensive residence in Center Parcs – the Treehouses – cost approximately twelve grand for a long weekend in August. For this, you would expect the activities to be included. You would be wrong. You would also expect the activities to be good and at the very least, free from rotting fish. You would, again, be wrong. During one of the summers, the lake became deprived of oxygen, causing all the fish to die. Instead of cancelling Aqua Parc sessions (essentially a bouncy castle obstacle course in the middle of the lake) myself and other colleagues were made to pick up all of the fish in between sessions. In the end, I resorted to telling children to jump on the dead, floating fish to “wake them up”; it meant the fish would disappear under the Aqua Parc. Out of sight, out of mind. This does paint a poor picture of me as an employee but I had redeeming qualities like retrieving several dropped iPhones from the lakebed, and a freshwater clam by accident. I was also really good at impressing customers by tickling the huge carp in the pond and explaining that the lake was made by glacial run-off in the Jurassic period (though it was in fact man-made).

Despite my less-than-stellar performance, Center Parcs is still a far cry from Tenerife and Magaluf. It is clean. It is for families. There are no men trying to entice you into a ‘coffee shop’ selling various substances. However, still waters run deep, and Center Parcs is no different. If you spend enough time standing on the Aqua Parc or doing history coursework in the golf shed, you will notice a sinister homogeneity. I first noticed this after encountering legion after legion of ‘golf dads.’ This type of person wears navy caps, shorts with large pockets and chequered shirts. They will throw their sons off the Aqua Parc (despite this being explicitly banned in my safety briefing) with a ferocity that is almost a safeguarding concern. Their faces are so nondescript that they resemble every man between forty and sixty ever born, making their existence paradoxical – so nondescript that they become descript by mere virtue of their nondescriptness. They will also become enraged if you decide to humble them for your own entertainment. For example, by giving them a child’s golf club instead of a full-sized one.

You may think that this is to be expected. To go on holiday at Center Parcs, you have to create yourself a timetable of activities, which you dutifully follow. This does not exactly breed creativity. However, we know that the British public are capable of truly riotous activities abroad, so where does this beer-consuming, bad tattoo-getting, speaker-holding monster go when Brits come to Center Parcs? 

I do not have the answer to this question. What I do know is that if the beast is not visible from the outside, it must be pounding on the bars of its cage on the inside. This should be cause for concern. My evidence? Hereford. I can almost guarantee that you, dear reader, could not place Hereford on a map. I have only come across it because most of my family (not me) live there. It is a wasteland of orchards and farms, with a town centre basking in the light of gloomy shops selling country wares; a cathedral and a medium-sized M&S – its crowning jewel. My sister remarked, stood outside Cheesy Morgan’s Cheese Shop:

“to be honest, I’ve had more interesting trips to the toilet.” 

What you wouldn’t know from the sleepy exterior is that not one, but two of England’s prolific serial killers are from Hereford: Lucy Letby and Fred West.

I am in no way comparing Center Parcs to murderers, partly because that would be a little hyperbolic and because my boss would definitely not consider re-employing me. This was dubious anyway thanks to deserting the Aqua Parc to throw up tequila shots and being at Reading Festival when I, allegedly, had long covid. Sorry Rich. However, like Hereford, the quietness and apparent serenity of Center Parcs should cause us all to be very cautious.

This idea became fully formed in my local library as I struggled through Bleak House. The book seemed positively lively in comparison to the bleakness of my surroundings – a dusty selection of hardbacks, decrepit computers and an adult romance section full of worn, well-thumbed books with names like Dirty Love, Bad Men and A Touch in the Night. For whatever reason, this sad building invited the hoodlums, ragamuffins and guttersnipes of my small, middle-class rural town. Every time I entered, hungry for more ‘Jarndyce v Jarndyce’ or whatever nonsense Mr. Dickens had in store for me, I would routinely listen to the librarians calling the police:

“Hello, it’s us again. I am so sorry but they keep throwing books at the librarians. Maureen’s just taken a hardback copy of, The Doctor Will See You Now: A Forbidden Romance, to the head.

No, they won’t leave.

Yes, we have tried telling them.

Thank you very much. See you soon.”

Thus, my argument for Center Parc’s eerie quality is made. Caging the beast is dangerous – it will bite back or throw books at the heads of librarians. That much normality can only be endured for a certain amount of time before someone snaps. For this, among many reasons, beware of hungover teenagers, golf dads and, above all, Center Parcs.

The Great Gatsby (recommended)

Bleak House (so unbelievably not recommended)

If you fancied any of the romance titles mentioned later in this article, I am sorry to say that they are made up. I am sure you can find similar in whichever section of your local library is the most populated with middle aged women.