Noodles has a new nickname amongst my friends and I:
Teeny Sod, Demon Barton of Portland Street.
(OK, it posting it partially blows my anonymity – and taking my blog as a whole I’m sure hackers/stalkers could work out any information they want on me, although I’ll warn that it really isn’t worth it in either case – but it has to be done for the sake of a pun.)
How a toddler can wake up after a serene nap on the sofa in such a temper at the world in general and against nothing specific is beyond me. But there he was, crescendo-howling for a good 25 minutes over lunch.
It’s why lunches with friends that used to be taken in the nicer restaurants and cafés of town are now all held at mine. No one wants to go out for pasta and come back with tinnitus.
Well, that and the fact that children are not overly welcome in a café society (because hes not always a nightmare, but he is very definitely a toddler.
Having been passive-aggressively asked to keep Noodles sat down in even the more liberal café in town, I refused to downgrade enough to drag my friends to the one place where Noodles will happily sit still to eat – McDonald’s – or the one place where it’s permissible for small children to charge around whilst grown-ups fend off overly vicious strip lighting with rank coffee – the soft play centre. And so mine it is.
Sadly there is no hunky waiter with designer stubble and a glint to his eye like there is at the restaurant on the quay. But at least a charcuterie board and cake is nicer than a Big Mac…and on a sunny day we can retreat to the garden and leave the flailing tantrum to calm down without feeling the pressure of strangers’ judgements.
And so it was with a sense of ‘you’re kidding, right?’ that I spotted the sign for the new Costa in town:
‘Costa: a perfect meeting point?’ I thought. ‘Not for us!’
They say that coffee shops have become the new pub. You’re not kidding: families with young kids aren’t particularly welcome in either!
I get that the combination of hot drinks and small kids isn’t great, but neither is the fact that the menu is never very kid-friendly and there’s never room enough to swing a biscotti, never mind manoeuvre a buggy. I think we’ll stay away, thanks.
But that then makes me angry, because once again children are shunned from normal society. There are places where the presence of children shouldn’t be allowed (screenings of non-family films, restaurants after kids’ bedtimes, spa swimming pools…) just the same as adults shouldn’t be allowed to ride on the Dumbos at Disney without a child, in my opinion (it’s a kids’ ride, for heaven’s sake and the queue is always insane thanks to child-free adults). But to be forced into cheap, unhealthy fast food places to eat with kids isn’t good enough. I don’t mind having friends round for lunch (it encourages me to clean
the visible bits of the house for a start). But at the same time sometimes eating out is more practical than going home or having a picnic, yet everywhere the atmosphere is of ‘your kind’s not welcome here.’
And it DOESN’T have to be like that either. There used to be a café that welcomed families with young children. It was in an inconvenient location, but there was an area dedicated to amusing small children with child-sized tables, books, Lego, colouring and a rocking horse. The menu was child-friendly without resorting to fried chicken nuggets. The owners made an effort to get to know their customers, kids and all, and everyone was welcomed with open arms. But it was only their plan to run the café for a short period of time before moving on. It was a sad day when they closed.
Because how are kids meant to learn how they’re meant to behave if they’re just pushed to the plastic holding pens of fast food and soft play? No, Noodles isn’t great at happily staying in his seat and prefers to explore, but it’s when he’s restrained that the God-awful noise starts.
And making children unwelcome also extends the discourtesy to their parents, which makes me even more angry when I think back to how isolating new motherhood can be. Luckily now I have a strong framework of friends, but it wasn’t always so. Holding a conversation amongst the activity of small children is hard enough, but to try to do so without feeling the scorn of everyone else in the building makes it near-on impossible. And so it is that parents the world over sit in their houses with only their babies and toddlers for company, the TV perma-set to children’s channels, bored yet ready to flake as the kids fall into bed. It’s amazing what restorative powers a cup of coffee and a chat about nothing can have in such circumstances.
There is one thing that’s makes me smirk as I walk by yet another coffee chain, filled with its smug clientele in their business suits paying over the top for a second rate panini and Flat White, I can take comfort in the suggestion that coffee shops are making a worse cup of coffee than a few years ago, a more acidic roast with the coffee chains mistaking the lighter roast of a coffee tasting (done so to detect faults more easily) for how coffee is meant to taste.
So maybe, actually, by adopting his Teeny Sod persona Noodles has actually done me a favour.
Maybe I’d be better off taking him to a pie shop. Maybe then he’d be a cutie pie. A Little Priest, anyone?