Every couple of months or so, we’d drive to a pub or restaurant, order good food, then sit and let someone else do all the hard work, the cooking, the serving, the taking away of the plates, the wiping of the table, the washing-up. It was lovely.
Then we had children, and I quickly learned it is the same amount of fun going for a meal with toddlers as it is walking the Pennine Way naked, with both legs tied together, and with Barry Manilow’s greatest hits CD playing on repeat in your headphones.
There is nothing - and I really emphasise the word nothing - enjoyable about going out for food with small children.
I remember the first time it happened, when our first child Mary was about 10 months old.
We went to quite a posh place nearby, where a snooty-looking waitress (she was one of those people who looked annoyed at having to actually be alive) showed us to our table and as I sat down with Mary in my arms, she threw out her right hand and sent a large and expensive-looking wine glass flying into the air.
It looped skywards, like Max Whitlock mid-way through a complicated pommel horse routine, and landed in quite spectacular fashion on the table next to us - disintegrating into many pieces and causing a woman halfway through her garlic and cumin butter prawns to scream.
I apologised, at a rough estimation, around 65 times to the woman and the waitress – it didn’t work; they both glared as if they wanted to decapitate me with a blunt instrument and then run through the streets parading my head to a cheering crowd – and the whole experience was incredibly stressful and unhappy.
I vowed there and then not to go for another meal until the children were grown up but, on Sunday, Mrs Canavan decided in her infinite wisdom to book us a table at a nearby pizza place.
I expressed my doubts, reminding her of the previous time we dined with a child, but she insisted the children were older now and would be better behaved.
“Well, we’ll see, won’t we,” I remarked darkly.
‘Why are you always so negative?’ she shot back.
I replied, “because since we had children there’s been very little to be positive about”, to which she slammed the bedroom door in my face and we didn’t speak for the next hour.
I thought about breaking the silence in the car on the way to the restaurant by remarking that instead of spending £14 on a pizza in a restaurant we could have got one for £2.50 from Sainsbury’s but realised this could possibly be construed as being negative, so held my tongue.
I’d love at this point to tell you I was wrong and we had a delightful evening, but I’d absolutely be lying.
Actually, for Mrs Canavan it was quite pleasant.
She was next to Mary and our daughter, now at primary school and coming up to the age of five, has reached a stage where she’ll sit with a colouring book and, as long as the book has unicorns and mermaids and butterflies in it (her favourite things in life, along with chocolate and not wanting to brush her teeth), will spend ages doing it.
Granted she’s not quite nailed colouring yet and seems to have a serious problem staying within the lines, instead scribbling on the page in random fashion.
When she’s finished a page, she’ll hold it in front of me and proudly say, ‘look daddy, look what I’ve done’ and I’ll force myself to lie through my teeth and say, “why, that’s wonderful Mary” while inwardly wondering if she’s got some sort of condition which affects her co-ordination.
Anyway, the point is Mary sits still and behaves.
I, however, sat next to Wilf, and Wilf, I can say with certainty, does not sit still and behave.
Indeed he seems to take great delight in not behaving.
He will, for example, pick up a heavy wooden toy and throw it at my head and I’ll say in a loud threatening voice, “No Wilf, that’s naughty, DON’T THROW THINGS.”
He’ll stare at me, as if thinking ‘who is this idiot trying to tell me what to do’, then, all the while maintaining eye contact in slightly unnerving fashion, will bend down, pick up another heavy toy and – with a ‘come on then, let’s see what you’re going to do about this big boy’ kind of look in his eye - hurl it at me.
If he didn’t have my genes, I’d detest him.
And so it was at the pizza place that, predictably, he spent a full hour jumping on the table, crawling around the floor (where he found a piece of manky garlic bread and began feasting on it), trying to grab the legs of anyone who walked by (with almost catastrophic consequences for one pensioner with a zimmer-frame), attempting to rip the menu, attempting to eat the menu, attempting to stick the menu up his nose, drawing on his own face with felt tips, trying to grab the knife and the plates, and basically doing everything he wasn’t supposed to.
I, meanwhile, spent the entire time trying to restrain him and, 45 minutes in, was sweating profusely, had dangerously high blood pressure, and was concerned the blood vessel in my neck might burst.
All the while Mrs Canavan sat opposite, serenely sipping a glass of wine and complimenting Mary on her (awful) colouring.
‘This is lovely,’ she sighed contently at one point.
I popped my head out from under the table, where I was on my hands and knees trying to prevent Wilf rifling through a handbag belonging to the woman at the next table (“Wilf, put those tampons back NOW”), and said, “yes, it’s absolutely belting”.
We won’t be going out for another four years, minimum.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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