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In which I discover Disney at age 29...

OCCASIONALLY I find myself staring longingly at babies. And toddlers. Indeed, children, per se.

I WATCH them waddling about in their nappies, eating Play-Doh and spilling orange juice down their fronts, and I just can't help but think: 'Lucky little bastards . . . you don't know how good you've got it.'

It's during winter that I envy them most. Last year, I found it particularly difficult having to witness my nephew being spoon-fed his Milupa as I trudged out to the driveway to defrost the windscreen.

I didn't begrudge him his Milupa, now. No, I just wanted to be in the highchair with him, watching Peppa Pig and avoiding the travails of modern life.

This month, I've been remembering the golden days of Junior Infants. Winter mornings weren't a worry when I was four years old. I simply had to outstretch my arms and legs and I would be dressed from head-to-toe while still lying in bed.

In later years, I would find a boyfriend who very kindly did the same.

Apparently we regress to our childhood during times of uncertainty. Perhaps that's why I soon broke it off with him, despite the personal styling service he offered.

It's certainly why nostalgia-themed marketing makes a comeback during a recession; and why women adopt ickle wickle ba-by voices when they're hungover and want their boyfriends to get them a McDonald's.

In a perfect world, we could crawl into a cot with a hot milky bo-bo when the going gets tough, but that would just be a bit weird. Indeed, the options around temporary regression are fairly limited if personal dignity is a concern.

Giant

There's really only one option: Disneyland – an alternative reality where you can embrace your inner child without reproach; a land where escapism is encouraged no matter what age you are.

As it happens, I'm 29, my friend Laura is 28 and the pair of us travelled to Disneyland Paris last weekend for two days of unashamed childhood regression.

"I can show you ze woooorld," sang Laura in her best French accent as we checked into our hotel. There was a lot of spontaneous breaking into song last weekend – sure we were in Disneyland. Anything goes.

French theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine branded Disneyland Paris "cultural Chernobyl" when it threw open its doors. I always thought that a touch hyperbolic, a bit like describing the soon-to-open McDonald's in Temple Bar as "gastronomic holocaust".

And who brought culture into it? That's akin to describing The Louvre as a "crime against the sporting industry".

Disneyland is all about fantasy. It's a place where a giant cricket encourages you to wish upon a star and where a warthog and a meerkat share their problem-free philosophy. Add rollercoasters and fast food and you have my personal version of Utopia.

And so the Minnie Mouse ears went on, the phones were turned off and the fact that we are fast approaching 30 was conveniently forgotten.

We met Mickey Mouse first, queuing up alongside an ingratitude of children and their increasingly disgruntled parents, many of whom almost completely lost it when they saw us two big lumps being led past the velvet rope, sans children.

We later met the Chipmunks (the old-school version), Cruella De Vil and Remy, the rat from Ratatouille. The latter was my favourite.

He was perched atop a cheese board on a dessert trolley and carted around the restaurant by a 'chef' who occasionally broke into a frenetic routine to Everybody Dance Now.

Later that night, we met The Weirdo. A holiday just wouldn't be a holiday without a local lunatic. In fact, the motley crew of whackjobs that I've met on my travels have come to define my adventures.

Memory

In the months and years that follow a holiday, the sights and sounds begin to blur into one overarching imprint. Barcelona 2009 – wild; Mexico 2011 – bedbugs...

Yet I have a photographic memory of the characters I've met and the conversations we've shared, perhaps because of my tendency to characterise them.

I have a theory: we often connect with people through our mutual disconnect with others. In short, bitching is bonding.

And never is bonding more important than when on a group holiday. You're living in close proximity and spending vast amounts of time together without the structure of day-to-day routine.

The likelihood is that someone in your group is going to get on your nerves fairly soon. However, if you have someone outside the group getting on everyone's nerves, well, it helps social cohesion; it gives you something to talk about and it's often absolutely hilarious.

Enter The Character. Whether it's the paranoid cocktail waiter, or the over enthusiastic concierge. Anyone will do.

My preference is for those of a stalky persuasion. They always provide the best laughs. My friends and I still giggle about a fella we encountered in Amsterdam. We met him on the first night and couldn't get rid of him until the last. He'd call and ask what we were doing each evening before turning up three minutes later with a crate – really, a crate – of booze. I always imagined him sitting at home waiting until the appropriate time to make the phone call, or hunched over his laptop, hand on mouse, clicking refresh, refresh, refresh...

I met a conspiracy theorist while on holiday with my mother in Argentina. He told my mother that he was in love with me, before later admitting that he was married and eventually conceding that his wife was holed up in the hotel room. "But I f***in' hate her," he assured us.

If you're thinking about a holiday on which there was no local lunatic, well I'm afraid the same rules as poker apply here: it was probably you.

But back to Disneyland, where we met not one but two creeps. The first was a face painter who told Laura that he would like to get to know her on "ze pillow". She declined his offer, but it seems he had already indulged his fantasy.

He painted Tinkerbell on her face, a wildly erotic version of Tinkerbell on all-fours, cleavage spilling out of her dress and voluptuous bottom arched into the air.

This led us to creep number two, a sweaty man in his 50s who followed Laura around for the rest of the evening asking if he could take photographs of her. Specifically the left side of her face.

Naturally, they dominated our conversation on the plane home. Indeed, in the months and years to come, they will define our trip to Disneyland.

It makes me think that you don't actually have to look too far to regress to childhood. Just go on holiday – any holiday – and you'll be transported back to the school playground.

Adults are so very immature in their bids to connect with others. Children have the right idea. "Want to play?" they ask, bucket and spade in hand. They don't bother with the formalities. We thought we were the adults in Disneyland, but in retrospect, the children probably looked at all this carry-on and thought: 'Just grow up'.


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