Now my kids are older, I have seen the light
As I was driving towards the Sydenham bypass last Saturday afternoon, traffic was crawling at a snail's pace. Was it an accident? Or a demonstration? Or maybe a security alert of some sort, I wondered? So I flicked on Cool FM and soon got the answer. Disney on Ice was on at the Odyssey and there were tailbacks for miles. Urrghh ...
Well, thank God I no longer have little kids, I thought to myself as I took a sneaky detour around the backstreets of east Belfast to avoid the mayhem.
It wasn't long ago that I would have taken the boys to all those kinds of events. Disney on Ice, WWE wrestling, every visiting circus, every Christmas pantomime, concerts, fairgrounds, festivals, displays, parades ... you name it, we did it and bought the T-shirt. Every family show that came to town, I'd be there with my wee fellas (and usually a few friends too), filling weekends and photo albums with so many memories whilst emptying my bank account in the process.
Now they were both grown up, though, I was off the hook. Hurrah.
Yes, there were some fantastic days out and yes, we really had some fun along the way. But what a relief to not have to do all the queueing and the parking; the inevitable dash to find the toilets; losing someone's coat under a seat; someone else feeling sick; the pressure to buy tacky merchandise ... and popcorn and hotdogs and ice cream and cola ... and to have your photgraph taken with a cartoon character for a tenner a shot.
Back home I logged onto Facebook and a friend had posted: "At Odyssey. Just bought two slushies in Disney plastic cups for the kids. Cost me sixteen quid! I must be mad!"
Yes, to reiterate, was I glad my two lads were all grown up now and all those hyper-activity-inducing, e-number-flavoured fizzy drinks in fluorescent character cups with curly straws and sparkly appendages had lost their appeal in favour of good old-fashioned beer.
Life is so much easier now they're grown up, I thought as it dawned on me there was a whole weekend ahead of me to do as I pleased.
I really must make the most of it!
So I flicked through a What's On guide and there I saw the ideal activity for an early autumn evening – The Festival of Light at Mount Stewart.
With the full moon just rising through a fine veil of frosty mist and Comet Ison newly visible in the sky too, well I couldn't have asked for more perfect conditions for an al fresco evening under the stars.
I wasn't disappointed either. In fact, it was one of the most memorable events of the year, if not the decade so far.
How to describe it? Around the pathways hundreds of lights in every shade of the spectrum, illuminated the magnificent grounds of Mount Stewart in a kaleidoscope of changing colours one minute then cast long looming shadows the next. A teepee lit with a thousand fairy lights housing a huge open log fire offered shelter from the icy cold; the lake rippled with waves of lights while every tree, bush and shrub around it took on a new reflection timed in perfect sequence with the ambient music being piped from hidden speakers.
What a brilliant way to highlight both the beauty of the extensive nature trail and the formal splendour of the estate. It really was a great achievement, brilliantly executed and such a unique experience too.
Kids were running here and there, clutching torches, playing hide and seek under trees and gawping in awe as another spectacular sight appeared behind the twisty path of this real-life Narnia.
And, yes of course, you guessed it: I just wished my own kids were there too – little, noisy and running amok once again just like in the good old days.
The National Trust Festival of Light continues tonight and tomorrow from 6pm until 9pm at Mount Stewart Estate, Greyabbey