Visit the 'rat petting zoo': Saving money during the school holidays with the penny-pinching expert

IT’S the school holidays and as every parent knows, the insatiable vampire parasites we call children will be sucking your wallet and purse dry. Luckily I’ve got some simple alternatives to costly summer holiday activities.

Kids love animals. Thank fuck the dinosaurs are all dead, or you’d be at Knowsley Jurassic Park every weekend. However they’ll still demand to visit safari parks and petting zoos. Here’s how I avoid those hefty entrance fees.

Find a disused local factory, or as I prefer to call it, ‘rat petting zoo’. With luck there’ll be thousands of cute little vermin scurrying around. Do emphasise to kids it’s important to avoid being bitten by their new furry friends because hospital parking costs a fortune these days. If the rats are shy, there’s bound to be pigeons and some interesting moss, so there’ll be plenty to see.

Even at a slightly unsafe factory, kids will want souvenirs. It’s tempting to let them bring home a deceased rat, but the diseases don’t bear thinking about. I just buy a few catnip-infused mice for cats – you can get four or five for a few quid – and hey presto, a plush ‘rat’ toy which they can pay for out of their own pocket money. 

And here’s a great tip for any day trip, whether it’s the rat zoo or a free steam engine museum – the key to keeping your expenditure down is to take your own food and drink with you. 

Kids will constantly be demanding expensive bought ice creams, and even in a cool box a tub of Asda budget soft scoop will soon melt. So I take some cornets and a tub of Smash with sugar stirred in. If you start them young, they can reach their teens thinking ice cream has a slightly unpleasant potato taste.

The local leisure centre is a great source of activities. Swimming is healthy, opens up a host of recreational possibilities, and may even save your child’s life. However I almost shat a brick when I discovered it was £4 a session.  

Instead I’ve invented what I call ‘theoretical swimming’. Get the kids to lie on your coffee table and do the moves for doggy paddle, breast stroke etc. It’s a great introduction to swimming that will give them a head start when they can pay for their own bloody lessons.

And finally, no summer holiday would be complete without arts and crafts. I remember doing brass rubbing, pressing leaves and flowers, playing pooh sticks – all extremely boring but with negligible costs. You’ll actually get plaudits from middle class parents who love this sort of traditional shit. Just don’t mention that it’s because you’re not paying 40 fucking quid to go to the local water park.

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Let's move to where the drunk 19-year-olds are all sons of barons! This week: Cambridge

What’s it about?

It’s not the one with the Bullingdon Club, it’s the one with the twat who burned £20 in front of a homeless man: Cambridge is the place to be if you want posh, superior dickheads everywhere but don’t quite have the stomach for Oxford.

Alternately packed with vile, obnoxious students – they’re not all rich, but they all know they’re better than you – and loud, obnoxious tourists, fight your way down the world’s narrowest pavements for a watery ice-cream and a gawp at some old shit.

Any good points?

Cambridge fosters many of society’s future culturemakers, so you’ll have ample chances to witness the next generation’s most prestigious actors, writers and musicians at the ADC Theatre. Or at least the ones whose parents are prestigious actors, writers and musicians.

If you’re yearning for something more authentic, stroll down King’s Parade and you’ll be treated to a wide range of street performers, from buskers singing Oasis to buskers singing Ed fucking Sheeran to a man outside Boots shouting that you’re going to hell. The grassroots of the arts is flourishing.

Wonderful landscape?

Take in all of the beauty and history of the university buildings, dating back up to eight centuries. Marvel at the students flitting in and out of them while you’re not allowed. Allow yourself no little resentment about this, especially as your taxes subsidise them and they wouldn’t even grant you an interview when you were 18.

That should take a couple of hours, then you will be free to stare at the miles and miles of surrounding entirely featureless countryside. Like flat fields? And a horizon that’s about 400 yards away? Because that’s what fenland is.

Hang out at…

Take in the city with a traditional punting tour; traditional in the centuries-old Cambridge custom of rinsing tourists for cash. You’ll spend an hour crashing into alternate banks of the most congested bit of the river if you punt yourself, or alternatively joining the traffic while an adolescent guide shouts his script about stuff you can’t see between arguments with other inadequate and/or pissed punters.

Hungry? Weave through pickpockets and wasps for a snack from the market, or return at 2am, lightly shitfaced, for a grease-dripping nightmare at the establishment known by students as ‘the van of death’. If you’re strapped for cash but still have some pride to burn through, enjoy a DIY dessert by harassing the free sample man outside the fudge shop.

Where to buy?

You think you can afford to buy in central Cambridge? Where a three-bed terrace costs £650,000? Yeah fuck off. Getting on the property ladder is hard enough when you’re not getting gazumped by a university college still blindingly rich off their cash from Henry VIII.

Going further out? Most of that land’s being bought out by tech companies building fancy business campuses. Convince Microsoft you’re an AI and maybe you can doss down in a data centre.

From the streets:

Donna Sheridan, aged 19: “I was worried that, coming from York, I’d feel out of place here if everyone was all snooty old money and that. But they don’t even bother talking to me long enough to be snobby, because with my accent they just assume I’m kitchen staff.”

Norman Steele, aged 62: “I’m not a student and actually live here. I’m considered worse than vermin, as my family has been for six generations.”