The choice is no choice at all
Children’s meals are sausages, chicken nuggets or pizza. Vegetarian Zozo wants none of them. TBT, thinking he should have as much choice here as he would at home wants broccoli with sweet-corn. There’s nothing for me either, I don’t eat meat or pasty and no loner enjoy white rice. I end up with a vegetarian pasties and rice, the kids have chips and beans (Zozo) and chips with sweet-corn and peas (TBT) Their helpings are heaped on the plate and would run for three meals.
TBT won’t come away from the play area
I find a table and put our assorted coats and tops on the backs of the chairs. Looking around the restaurant I find a grandfather, apparently on his own, abandoned amongst a heap of flashy coloured ski-jackets; kids’ drinks bottles, a couple with their couple of kids, both pre-school, pram tucked behind them; grandparents (I presume) with a single grandchild. Each gradually sinking in a heap of discarded food, serviettes, tomato ketchup sachets and cardboard coke cups.
I get Zozo to come, then TBT begins to wet his pants. I take him to the loo. I get them both to the table and Zozo needs to go. I think I might be able to leave her at the ladies, but the door is too heavy and she shuts herself in and let out a plaintive cry within earshot. I rescue her. Meanwhile TBT has left the play area, found the table but no me and has gone off in a panic. I take Zozo into the men’s and point her towards the loo. Task complete she is fascinated by the child’s seat within the lid and is difficult to remove.
Food down in under five minutes
We eat, it takes less than five minutes to eat less than a tenth of what is on their plates. Then they want to draw, they know where the colouring sheets are and go off to find these and crayons. I did not enjoy the pastie, I have left the rice and my only comfort is a bottle of Bud hat I’d prefer not to be drinking because of my no alcohol, no caffeine detox, but given the pain of my earache and my state of mind and the need to calm myself for an afternoon of ragging kids and request to buy these sweats or another I drink as both medicine and an antidote.
I glance around the room. Eating styles are as varied as the people, forks jabbed skywards, elbows stretched across the table shovelling food into their gobs, dainty etiquette taken to its extreme as a gran tries to balance a few peas on the back of her fork. The dress sense swings between country walk and floss rompers suits, bubble gum pink willies and matching jackets. A Young dad in a baseball cap, a short sleeved vest over a sweat shirt, walks in pushing a pushchair as if he is carrying a cartoon of tiles to a delivery van.
A baby yells and burbles as it stretches its lungs
There is he burbling high itched chit-chat of mums and the subdued, bass tones of dads trying to share a word or too between interruptions for drink, for ketchup, for wee-wees for rides, for ice-creams. A little one isn’t getting the attention, or the food that they want, or they are too hot, too cold, or tired. Were I not a parent I would winch at each stab of shout, cum, yell, cum cry. cum kick. But I am, so I don’t. But as this one child ups he volume, the entire restaurant ups its volume to compensate, a second child chirps in with a similar chorus and soon the calm of a library is turned into kids outside the classroom as the bell goes on a damp Friday morning.
Staffed by Sixth Formers
The staff give you the feeling that you are eating at a charity fund raising do for the local sixth form college, they are all casual weekend workers, all in their late teens or early twenties and all wearing chummy Drusilla’s sweat-shirts.
There are further distractions
Zozo and TBT argue over having a 20p ride. It is Zozo’s money, TBT goes first, but he won’t get off. I persuade Zozo to leave him be, persuade her that he will tire of it. Then he has a ‘gurt idea’. (sic) His ‘cunning plan’ is to cadge a ride on the back. Zozo is having nothing of it. I distract him, their are several regal animal decorated chairs for a birthday boy or girl who may come here. We find one that says ‘three’. TBT and I run through a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. He won’t sit back down and finish his lunch though. He has had five or six chips. No corn no peas, no rice.
Time to leave
A little boy drums his feet with irritating gusto on a table. He is two, he is sitting in front of his Dad and his Dad is doing nothing about it. The beat is picked up by another two year old boy in a high chair across the room. The restaurant slowly empties. No one wants to say anything to the parents and the parents are oblivious to the disturbance their anti-social children are causing.
A guy bringing an ice-cream dripping in syrup manages to dribble it over the floor and then over TBT’s shoulder. He is apologetic and offers a napkin. I’m cool.
The drumming continues
Zozo is then attracted into the play area at the entrance by kids her age. TBT wants to leave, but she doesn’t. And so it goes on. I tell TBT to wait outside that’s one of them out, while I get Zozo. I return a few minutes later with Zozo to find that TBT has swung both doors open and bolted them.
Zozo does the Twizzle-Ladder
Slowly. Patient, knees out, frog leg push, wriggle and slide gradually to the top. It is unsatisfying to find the bell doesn’t work. She has a couple of admirers following her technique. She goes inside, shoes off, onto the rocking horse. TBT plays filling the milk float with fuel (though it is an electric-milk float). I follow his progress with a pair of binoculars. It’s fun to be up close, to watch his mischievous curiosity and sense of play as it unfolds to see that he is daring himself, dreaming up some activity, then giving it a go. Trying things out. He clambers up a spiral staircase dragging a matt with him, meant for six year olds, but he has no trouble with it. At the top I see him carefully unfold his matt, twist it around the right way, climb up onto it, tuck in his feet and set off. It strikes me that he could make his own bed. Zozo does ‘Spy kid’ over-arm.
Zozo reappears with her shoes and socks
What does that conjure up? Te increased sensitivity of the bare foot on the pedals? Taking it a step further i imagine the Flintstones style vehicle, bare-feet on the road. The idea is reinforced a quarter of an hour later when the sun goes behind clouds and I retreat to the indoors. TBT is in a pedal car, he even has a passenger. He is contentedly tip-tapping along, feet going like the flap on TV’s Wheel of Fortune. Ample time to doge and steer, too slow to do any damage should he crash the car. I ask how fast he can do. For all his haste he barely picks up any speed.