Yesterday, my wife and I went out for a meal to celebrate my birthday. I’ve never felt so old … which makes sense, if you think about it: none of us have ever been as old as we are now. That’s an important philosophical point for you, right there.
The restaurant was nice. I mean: it was really nice. It’s a fine-dining Indian restaurant, and if you’ve lived in Derby for any period of time you’ll know exactly which one.
We were shown to our spotless, immaculately presented table by our spotless, immaculately presented maître d’. We had made half an effort to appear presentable … well, my wife had made an effort, anyway. I’d just grudgingly found a clean shirt. Blokes seem to be able to get away with less in these situations.
The other diners were polite and well mannered. There was nothing so gauche as background music. There was no jukebox, or TV hanging on the wall showing a random TV channel with subtitles. The chairs were comfortable.
But the strangest thing about the evening was how alien it all felt. Not our usual sort of haunt – and yet it used to be!
For about four years after we were married, we knew every fine-dining restaurant and gastro-pub within a 20 mile radius of our home. We knew all the staff by sight, and many by name. Our friends would ask us for recommendations of where to go out to eat. We tried new establishments as soon as they opened – if we had known about blogging back then, we could have set ourselves up as local restaurant critics.
But then … children happened.
Now, we had friends with kids, and we used to scoff that they weren’t teaching them how to behave in restaurants, or appreciate good and exotic foods. We told ourselves that when our children arrived, we would know better!
But after Favourite Son was born we realised that sometimes, all the good intentions in the world won’t stop the little shits from dismissing everything that “tastes funny”. No matter how hard we tried, our children have hated any food that is spicy, exotic, or does not include chips. Invariably, it was thrown in our faces. And in the early days: thrown up in our faces.
We admitted defeat quite early on. I mean: if you knew that your child was going to take one bite out of whatever dish they’d ordered before deciding they weren’t going to touch it, would you rather you’d wasted four quid, or twenty?
And if you knew you were going to have an argument with your daughter about how much of her potato waffle, beans and sausage had to be eaten before she’d be allowed her two-scoops of ice-cream with sprinkles, would you feel more embarassed to have that argument in a fine-dining establishment, or a room full of other families having identical arguments, all watched over by a massive, grinnning, cartoon mouse mascot?
And so we stopped seeing menus that used words like “jus” and “aromatic”, replaced instead with menus that offered the kiddies “smiley-face potato bites” and included dot-to-dot puzzles. My childrens idea of a “posh meal out” is Frankie and Benny’s, because they learn Italian when they go and have a wee.
Our new haunts have (shudder) climbing frames and ball pools. Quite frankly, any restaurant that keeps the kids distracted for half an hour in a padded cage so that mummy and daddy can have a bit of peace and a couple of beers is worth knowing about, even if all the food tastes like fried snot.
Of course, I love my children, and wouldn’t change our family. I am required to say this under threat of action by Social Services, and in case my son ever discovers this blog in a few years time (when we finally let him on the Internet) and he discovers what daddy really thinks about parenthood. And the benefits of going to restaurants like these is that I now appreciate the wonder of “two meals for a fiver”, and we’re never short of a box of crayons in the glovebox.
But I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the old days: child-free, care-free, and enjoying a surprising amount of disposable income we could blow on an evening out. Back in the days when we were thin, could lie-in on weekends, and had no idea that there were such things as restaurants that let patrons draw on the tables.
The day our children sod-off to university, we shall say our goodbyes, perhaps shed a tear, then downsize our house to something with so-few bedrooms the little buggers can’t possibly move back in. And as we do that, we’ll burn all the Harvester Inn loyalty cards, and the two-for-one-on-a-hellish-bank-holiday-Monday coupons we keep accumulating on the pinboard. And then we shall drown any feelings of “empty nest syndrome” by blowing our offsprings’ inheritance on some shamefully expensive dining and a lot of alcohol.
I suspect this will last … right up until the point we become grandparents.
(I’d like to say a big ‘hello’ to my parents, whose irony-meter has probably just exploded.)