History and Theory.
A staple of young childrens' birthday parties for many years, the bouncy castle first became popular in the yuppie heydays of the later 1980s. Before this point, extravagant parties for young children were a rarity, but they became more common as parents insisted on spoiling their little darlings.
The premise is a simple one. A large and sturdy construction of some tough polymer, normally PVC, is inflated by a large air pump. This, when inflated, forms the basic "castle" shape, comprising a floor, three walls, and an open front. To this can be added many accessories on more ornate versions, including lavish turrets and a roof, or in some cases an inflatable slide. Another variant on the castle design is the box design, which has a slightly less open front, with a small entry "door" half way up the front wall. This lets the castle be turned into a ball pond. There are even more complex designs, some of which involve obstacles, either to be avoided, in some cases crawled through, or to be treated as punchbags. However, without question, the most disturbing one I have ever seen was painted to look like a large, leering clown, which you entered through his mouth.
Bouncy castles are surprisingly durable. Although a typical hire agreement requires you not to wear shoes or items of jewellery on the castle, it is very rare to see a puncture even when these are not followed. Small punctures tend be easily fixable with a patch and a few stitches; larger ones often need an entire panel to be replaced. However, such repairs are easy and relatively cheap.
Structure and Use.
The bouncy castle can simply be used like a trampoline. However, after a while, bouncing begins to pall, and you look for new uses. Competition is common, with children trying to reach the roof or scale the walls. But wait! As you look around, you notice the slight similarity of the castle to a wrestling ring. You have a mat, you have ropes on three sides. What's more, the floor is bouncy, and so you really can't get very hurt. So, how can you use this arena to best effect?
The floor is the most important section of the castle. Despite the appearance of being a multi-panel affair, air flows freely throughout the floor, with the result that the fat kid landing on one side will catapult those on the other side into the air. This effect also allows for teams of well-organised children to counter-bounce with a lighter child in an attempt to reach the ceiling.
The walls tend to be less sturdily constructed than the floor. They can, with some effort, be climbed, and jumped from, like a turnbuckle. However, the best use for them is the same use to which the ropes are put in wrestling - you throw yourself at them at high speed to bounce off in the other direction like a human pool ball.
Any extremities, such as the punchbag obstacles in the castles equipped with them, tend to be less rigid than the main structure, and so can pulled back and released and used as weapons by resourceful children. However, this tactic is looked down on almost as much as camping is by older kids.
So you want to hire a bouncy castle?
Typical prices range from £40 to £100 per day for hire, as well as a couple of pounds for the electricty used for the generator. However, for most people, the greater issue is space. With the very smallest castles at around 9' x 9', and the largest I have seen at 21' x 11', many people will find their lawn rather full rather quickly.
- Many many birthday parties and school fêtes.