Ball pits and bodacious pigs: my week in search of happiness and wonder

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I don’t want to be cynical or pessimistic, but it’s difficult in such gloomy times. Can I find a way to tap into my playful side?

‘A place where adults can become children again’ … Tim Dowling at the Balloon Museum in London. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

I imagined starting out by stroking a chicken, or maybe being nice to a rabbit, but farm manager Katie Tomkins has other ideas – the first animal I am introduced to is a 12cm cockroach. “They can survive 10 times the amount of radiation a human can, and go nine days without a head,” says Tomkins, placing the insect on my jumper, so it sits there like a brooch. As an experience, wearing a very large cockroach is probably less unsettling than wearing 200 small ones.

Overall, it’s a truly uplifting way to spend a morning. On the walk to the farm all I could think was: this would be a very good place to leave a body in a rolled-up rug. On the way home I thought only of gambolling sheep, hungry pigs and a cockroach living nine days without a head.The seafront at Hastings, East Sussex, is not at its best at this time of year – lots of the rides aren’t open, and dark clouds are moving in from offshore.

A few metres along the front I stop to see if there’s time for a quick round of mini golf before sunset. “Certainly,” says the man at the window. “Are you aware that we’re the world championship course?”But it’s true: Hastings Adventure Golf has hosted the World Crazy Golf Championships for more than 20 years. I have come here accompanied by two of my adult sons because I felt weird – even mildly suspect – doing childlike seafront activities on my own.

Old Billingsgate market on the Thames in central London currently houses an experience – the Balloon Museum’s Emotion Air show – that is said to inspire childlike wonder in children and adults. It’s an installation featuring the inflatable works of 20 artists from across the globe, all exploring the relationship between art and emotion.


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