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      16.07.2002 22:08
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      As parents of a 14 month old girl, my wife and I rarely visit pubs nowadays. Ironically, our house backs onto the beer garden of our "local", but it's not at all child-friendly, and we thought we might get reported to social services if we took the baby monitor over to the pub in the evening! So we were delighted to find the Fradley Arms nearby. Halfway between Burton and Birmingham down the A38 (just by the Lichfield turn), on the southbound carriageway, it's easy to drive past the Fradley Arms without even noticing. Typical of many "dual carriageway" pubs, it is attached to a cheap hotel/motel, which blends with the pub very tastefully. The exterior isn't particularly remarkable, although there are some tables in front of the pub, under a large tree, which is lovely on a hot summer day. It's when you get inside that you really notice why this pub stands out from the rest in terms of family-friendliness. As you walk in through the main entrance, you pass the Play Zone - one of those padded play areas with ball pools, slides and so on. This area is extensive, stretching down the entire length of one side of the pub. It is manned by 2 play assistants at all times, although their desk is around the corner from the play area, so parent supervision is essential. Tucked away in the far corner of the play area is a small room playing childrens videos - Harry Potter while we were there. The actual play equipment is clean, well-designed, and provides areas for all ages of children, from toddlers to older. In fact, baby Emily soon grew bored of the "toddler zone" (which contains a small ball pool and some soft rubber shapes to clamber over), and ended up sliding down the "grown-up" slides! The entrance to the play zone is also well-laid out, with child-sized chairs and tables, and a kiosk for T-shirts, caps and drinks. There is a charge for the play zone (£1 per child), but when we went, we weren't charged, so I'm not entirely clear what the rules are about that! They also run a bi-weekly parent and child group during termtime for families in the area. Continuing into the pub itself, there are a few toys scattered around (mainly the "educational" beads-on-wiggly-wires type). The high-chairs are designed as plastic "tree-trunks" or "rockets" depending on your point of view (and actually look a lot better than they sound). Most importantly, the highchairs are kept clean! The children's menu is almost as comprehensive as the adult one. Emily and her similarly-aged friend, Matilda, had a "Kiddies Mixed Combo" which contained child-like chunks of garlic bread, sausage, potato wedges and baked beans. The adult menu was typical of many "chain-pub" type menus - the favourite pub grub backed up by a traditional Sunday Roast, and some specials, including Swordfish Steak in Thai Green Sauce - which was apparently delicious, according to our friends. The service was prompt and friendly, the food was good quality, decent amounts, and hot, and, all in all, we had no complaints. On the way back to the cars, we popped around the back of the pub, to the "Children's Beer Garden" - a fully-enclosed play area, with tables for the grown-ups. Signs placed around the play area request that adults only take plastic glasses into the garden for safety. There were plenty of climbing frame/swing/slide-type things to go on, plus a bouncy castle which was available to use free of charge. All in all, we were most impressed. And if you don't have children? There is a lounge bar tucked away round the back, which provides a more typical pub atmosphere, but I wouldn't really recommend it if you just wanted a quiet drink. In terms of pleasing the children, though... Emily enjoyed it so much she fell asleep before we got out of the car park!

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