SWB on dining out with children

(The restaurant story, as promised. This was Thursday night in the Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Dalkey.)

Having been unexpectedly relieved of parenting duties for a full twenty minutes in the pool, I’m in fine fettle, and looking forward to a second glass of wine. Back in the room, LSB has donned a nice shirt, and is helpfulness personified, drying the girls’ hair and finding missing shoes. Perhaps I should encourage him to drink two pints at tea-time every night: bath time would definitely be a more relaxed affair.

Given that it’s now 7-15, we decide to dine in the hotel, to ward off any chance of ‘hangryness’ in the children. We learnt the hard way on holiday, that it was ill-advised to go traipsing the streets in search of dinner with starved youngsters.

So down the stairs we trot to ‘The Dungeon Bar and Grill’, which is as cavernous as it sounds with flickering candles and a black concrete floor. Feeling all romantic and remembering  our honeymoon, I squeeze LSB’s hand. ‘It feels like we’re back in Eastern Europe,’ I tell him. He smiles.

‘I’m tired,’ whinges a child. His smile fades.  The restaurant is busy, but the manager ushers us to a cosy table for four, looking out onto a lawn, softy illuminated with Narnia-esque lamp posts.

I sink into a velvety chair, with the sounds of exhalation common in people over thirty-five. A waiter is straight over and we order quickly. ‘I’ll be right back with that wine’ he lies. He returns with water, and nothing else, for a long, long time. It is almost half  8 and the children stare at their tablets with glazed expressions. There is still no wine.

Beside us, a couple have a fraught discussion over burgers. ‘I ordered the blue cheese and bacon,’ says the fellow plaintively.

‘I didn’t want bacon, I ordered  salad with no gherkins,’ says his date.

‘Feck, it’s like When Harry met Sally, but without the charm,’ I remark, (though quietly, as I don’t want a fork in the eye.) The muscle in the man’s cheek is flickering like it’s about to go into spasm. ‘Just leave it,’ he tells the frazzled waitress, and his date opens up her bap and starts flinging off bits of gherkin on to a side plate. I love gherkins and am tempted to request a slice as an amuse-bouche, but I sense such requests would be met wit ill-humour.

Our food is still notably absent and no one comes near us lest they catch the eye of the furious pair beside us. Finally, it arrives. The girls are now beyond hunger. They keep knocking over the condiments and glasses which they are using to prop up their tablets. Their headphone leads are trailing through their chips. There are globs of red sauce on the lovely linen tablecloth. I take a massive gulp of wine as the older child drops a nugget and starts pawing under the table for it. As I open my mouth to remonstrate with her I choke, spraying LSB’s steak with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The couple beside us look on with agonised expressions.

LSB dries his steak with a napkin and munches the last few bites. ‘At least I’d eaten my chips,’ he says. ‘Nothing worse than a soggy chip.’  Now that he’s drained his glass of wine, his mood is ebullient, despite the fiasco of dinner . ‘Please take those children away and let me finish this in peace,’ I plead.

Off they go and I try to relax. The narky couple leave, taking their guerny faces with them. In the absence of other reading material I take out my phone and check Twitter. I rarely Tweet anything of substance, since I seem to attract argumentative sorts. Instead, I Tweet things like, ‘Had a scone today in Kaffe-O,’ which though dull as f**k, at least supports a local business. A waitress tentatively approaches and I tell her that everything was lovely, aside from the wait.

‘I’ve just the place for you, to have a quiet moment,’ she says.

‘I’m fine, here,’ I protest.

Not to be dissuaded, she lifts my wine. ‘Come, follow me.’

It is indeed a delightfully candlelit nook, cosy and secluded. However, there is a small child already ensconced, with a colouring book and pencils. His parents insist they will oust him but he looks so contented that I am loathe to disturb him. A quiet child in a restaurant is a rare thing, especially of an evening.

I find another table and start reading an article on ‘Should You Embrace the Joy of No’ on the Guardian website when I hear an argument at the table opposite. This time another disgruntled pair are having it out with the bar manager who is wearily telling them: ‘I’m trying to be reasonable, I assure you, your meal is on the house.’

The woman actually has her head in her hands.

‘F*@K me,’ I think. ‘Your steak was tough, you aren’t in the Calais jungle.’ I don’t think that the Brexit negotiations could be any more tense.

The gentleman wants to ‘take things further’ and the manager is telling him ‘that’s his prerogative.’  They bat the word prerogative back and forth a while, and I concede that any chance of a carefree night of frivolity has long since past and take my leave.

I hear the children before I even open the door. In a moment of exuberance, the Older Child has attempted a cartwheel and caught the Small Child on the nose with her heel. There is no blood, but a good deal of squawking, and tears, from both the victim and the afflicter. ‘Bad things happen to me on holidays,’ sobs the Small Child. ‘You and me both,’ I sigh.

‘I’m not repeating the specials again until everyone puts down their phones.’

SWB takes a half-term break with the family


It’s half-term and we’ve decided to book three nights in a hotel, instead of the usual two, so we can ‘properly relax’, (LSB’s words). There is a flaw in the plan though, as after booking the accommodation, we discover that they don’t have a kid’s club. Suddenly the relaxing bit seems ambitious. The bar better serve VERY good wine, I tell LSB, who looks slightly crestfallen when he sees the depth of my despondency.  ‘Just have very, very low expectations,’ says my friend when I complain to her later. ‘That’s how I approach holidays.’

When we arrive at the Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Dalkey, however, I’m rather taken with it. There’s a sort of dilapidated chic about the whole affair. ‘New elevator coming soon!’ reads the sign, as we take the stairs.  The carpet is threadbare, and we have a veritable hike to our room, along three long corridors. This ALWAYS happens to us, like the way the departure lounge for Belfast flights used to be at the furthest outpost of the airport, in case the IRA blew it up. LSB calls it a ‘Bring a packed lunch’ trek. ‘How was your room?’ I’d ask after each business trip. ‘BPL’ he’d always say. This hotel has a faded grandeur about it, and it’s full  of grannies having afternoon tea, buttering scones and talking in hushed tones. There’s a whole table of pensioners playing poker and a bespectacled looking girl knitting a jumper. I think we’ll fit in here ok.

The kids swim time doesn’t start for another 30 mins so we sojourn to the Library Bar for what a ‘pre-swim fortification beverage’.

‘Just giving you a heads up,’ says the barman, as he pours a Guinness for LSB and a Chilean red for me, ‘there’s a strictly no children policy in here from 6.’

‘Very wise,’ I tell him. And don’t fret, we’re very quick drinkers; parenthood does that to you.’

‘I hear you,’ he says, mournfully.

The swim though, is more bearable than anticipated, because in the bar, I spy another couple, knocking back beers, while their children play on their devices. I sense kindred spirits. (Initially, I was agin the concept of tablets, naively thinking that kids glued to their screens, and not participating in conversation was a dreadful thing.  I’m 100% over that now, if it means an end to the relentless pestering that happens in the absence of screen entertainment.)

LSB says that the drive has tired him out and orders another Guinness, and I introduce myself to the family and we head to the pool together.  It’s all very jolly, as their daughters are in their teens, and are very tolerant of my pair, making sure they don’t drown while I chat to their mum, Louise. It’s a skill of mine, farming out my kids. I make vague apologetic noises about inflicting ourselves upon them. ‘No bother at all,’ says Louise, who turns out to be all the craic. ‘Sure I’ll keep an eye here and you head to the hot tub,’ says her husband. I’ve already warmed to this crowd a great deal.  Like me, Louise gave up work for a while, and while I fanny about still ‘discovering what I want to do’, she’s a full-time carer for a paraplegic. ‘I could have been a paraplegic,’ I tell her, ‘But luckily I broke my C7. Another centimetre up and that would have been me, needing my catheter changed.’

‘That would have been shite alright,’ she says, ‘but it’s surprising how much you can do with a broken back.’ Barry’s always asking me to fetch him things and I’m like, ‘Enough of your ordering me around, do it yourself!’

I look bewildered. ‘Seriously? Disabled from the shoulders down? What do you want him to be doing?’

‘There’s apps for everything these days,’ she explains. ‘He drives his own car and gets around rightly. You should have seen the clip of him though when I first took over.  Used to be sitting there, in these crappy auld tracksuit bottoms. I said to him, “I know you’re in a wheelchair and all, but are you trying to look disabled?”‘

‘How did that go down?’ I inquire.

‘Ach he has a sense of humour. Some days, anyway. We went to Next and got him jeans, and a proper haircut at the Turkish Barbers. Know what he’s up to now? Sending me links to clothes he thinks I should wearing! Told me the other day, that I looked ‘frumpish.’ ‘Frumpish?’ I said to him. ‘Least I knew better that to dive into the shallow end.’ They nearly threw us out of the café we were laughing that much.’

She’s taking him abseiling next month. I don’t doubt it. He’ll be parachuting next.

Unfortunately, the Small Child decided she’d had enough of the swimming and was shivering like a  drenched whippet at the side of the pool. Reluctantly I clambered out of the hot tub. ‘I could chat to you all evening,’ I told her, ‘You’re a hoot.’ ‘No bother,’  she smiles. I wish we could be friends.

(Tune in tomorrow or the next day, when I’ll have found the strength to write about our dining experiences down in Dalkey.)

SWB ruminates on St. Valentine’s Day

The Small Child is raging. The features on her five year old face are scrunched into a frown, her forehead all furrowed and her eyes threatening tears. Very upset indeed she is. And the reason? Big sister came home with a tiny teddy bear, boasting hearts on the upsides of his paws. There’s a boy in her class, (we’ll refer to him as Bert, to preserve his anonymity.)  Cracker wee chap he is too- full of exuberance and fun. He’s had his eye on herself from P1, and what with her being a sensible sort of a child, and him being inclined towards causing mischief, I think she’s often paired up with him to keep his behaviour in check.

 

I’m surmising, because I found myself in a similar position in P2. There was a boy in my class, (we’ll call him Neville: though in fact his parents were Plymouth Brethren, so he could well have been called Neville.) He was was gorgeous, all shiny blond hair and sparkly eyes, but a bit of a ruffian, and  loved a good rake about. Once an educational psychologist came in to observe his antics. ‘That little girl Helen is very good with him,’ she opined. Neville annoyed me once, and I remember the eagle-eyed teacher, calling my name sharply as she saw my thumb and fore-finger poised to give him a good nip. He escaped, that time.

 

I digress. ‘I’m sorry you didn’t get a bear,’ I tell the Small Child. ‘But really, you’re very little for all this business. Much better to think of Valentine’s as a day to have fun with your family, and give us lots of hugs.’ ‘I just want a bear,’ she sniffed.

 

I tell her that sometimes she will have a boyfriend and her sister won’t; and vice versa.  That sometimes she will feel jealous and sad, because life can be unfair. I tell her that before I met her daddy I had some boyfriends who never got me a card or a present, or treated me very nicely at all. I tell her I didn’t keep them around for long. We eat some Marks and Spencer chocolate hearts and read ‘The Children of Cherrytree Farm.’ I register the paucity of adjectives in Enid Blyton’s prose, but rather enjoy reading about red squirrels and moles. The older child cuddles in; the teddy bear who caused all the strife abandoned on the sofa while we three huddle under the duvet on the big bed.

 

Later, I jog down to the town centre, where I’m learning to ‘work the desk’  at Belfast 89 : it’s harder than you think, this radio lark, especially for one with an aversion a technology.  I don’t know how many times I left the mic on, so all manner of shit could have been bandied about over the airwaves, with me blithely unaware. Anyway, as I run, I pass several chaps carrying bunches of flowers. A few have been over generous with the aftershave and it lingers in my nostrils for several yards after I pass them. It makes me smile. It reminds me of last year when we took a trip to Malahide. Sitting on the Luas was a girl with a teddy bear the size of a chimpanzee. ‘Jaysus,’ sighed an elderly woman, who was actually wearing a headscarf. ‘He’d have been better off giving you the money.’ Given the expression on the girl’s face, I think she agreed.

 

The thought of jogging home again makes my heart feel sore, so LSB leaps in the motor and comes to get me.  Later he nips down to get petrol and I take out the bins. I lament that the children’s dinner is in the green compost caddy and that LSB has fed them a bagel instead. He cooks two steaks and we open a bottle of Beaujolais and I understand for the first time why the French tend to export most of their yield because it tastes like Shloer. I light a candle.

 

With f@*k all on the TV,  we watch the episode of Friends where Ross sleeps with the Xerox girl because they’re ON A BREAK. The cat purrs beside us. It’s been a strange old Valentine’s Day.  ‘I’m glad I have you,’ I tell him as we clink glasses. ‘Aye, you’re all right too,’ he replies, giving me a kiss.

*Welcome to all my new readers! Thanks for finding the blog and I hope you enjoy my musings. LSB, by the way, is the acronym for my husband, and stands for Long Suffering Bastard.

SWB gets herself a Personal Trainer

Recently LSB has started attending a gym near his work. He’s found himself a PT called Tom, and he’s all delighted with him: it’s all ‘Tom says’ and ‘Tom this’ and ‘Tom that.’ I’ve had to take his shirts to Oxfam and buy him more, as buttons have started pinging off all over the joint since his shoulders have filled out. He’ll deny this, but I’ve caught him having a sneaky look at his new pecs in the mirror. Thrilled with his new physique, he is. I had a session myself with a PT a while ago now, at the Ramada. A sanctimonious twerp he was too: I couldn’t be having him. He lacked all humour and made disparaging comments about yoga. ‘I’ll not be working out with you again you, you prick,’ I thought.

 

However, of late I’ve not felt at my best. I’ve no waist to speak of, my arms are droopy and I lack upper body strength. I’ve joined the PEC but hardly ever go because I lack the confidence to use the free weights room and I rarely make it to classes. ‘You need a PT,’ says himself, ‘just to get you started.’ I’ve tried going to the gym with him (I mean what’s the use of being shacked up to a running coach if they can’t at least train their wives,) but he has me doing all manner of daft exercises. I end up giving him savage looks which are not conducive to marital harmony. Luckily, my pal Marie-Louise comes to the rescue. ‘Mary-Jo lives up the road from you,’ she says. ‘She’s my mate and she’s brilliant. Off you go.’

 

Turns out, Marie-Louise is right. I don’t just want to go BACK to Mary-Jo, I want to adopt her. Everyone needs this pint-sized dynamo in their lives: the National Health should make  her available on prescription. When I arrived on Wednesday, a frazzled mess, she had a cup of camomile tea waiting for me and took time to chat before heading out to her studio. She took my blood-pressure first, to check I wasn’t suffering from hyper tension and didn’t have a stroke mid-session. ‘Not great for business that,’ she said. ‘Indeed,’ I agreed.

 

Her studio is compact and bijou: all white with pops of bright colour provided by her equipment. I can see that attention to detail is everything with Mary-Jo. There is a tall bottle of chilled water for my refreshment, and even my glass is beautiful, with a dragonfly imprint. In between exercises I keep shrieking ‘I love that tune!’ and she admits to using Spotify to tailor song choices to her clients’ age. There’s a good vibe in the studio- already I know I want to come back.

She designs a circuit of exercises which work on my legs, arms and core. The benefits of having her beside me as I work through them are manifold. She gently reminds me to engage my core, regulate my breathing and ensure my stance is correct. Having been involved in an accident in my twenties, I am always paranoid about lifting weights, lest I aggravate old injuries.  Mary-Jo is sympathetic to my neuroses, (which are many) and knowing that she is looking on, to see I’m not doing any damage to myself, reassures me. I know that weight training improves speed and builds strength for running, but I lack the motivation to it. Having her there to keep count of reps and encourage me keeps me going.

 

I can imagine though, that after a few sessions, I would quickly gain confidence. Mary-Jo may be sweet faced and softly spoken, but if your aim is to lose weight and change your shape, she’ll channel her inner terrier to get you there. I do the circuit once, and since I’d run 10k earlier, I decline the next two rounds. Her sessions usually involve three circuits with the smallest of breaks inbetween. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. ‘Course you are; you’re strong!’ says Mary-Jo. For one so mild, she doesn’t even look shocked by the stream of invective I release during a particularly brutal core exercise.

 

It is also, despite the work out, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. She tells me that some of her clients are so chatty she sets a timer as a means of discipline or they wouldn’t manage to complete their workout. ‘People pay me to get results,’ she says, ‘so they have to get value for money.’ By going to Mary-Jo you get more than value- you get a bit of TLC too. In the warmer weather she will even take her clients outside and serves up tea and dark chocolate as a post work-out treat. I mean, who DOES that?

 

There are no miracle shortcuts though, and the exercise only works in tandem with a good diet, and exercising portion control. ‘Wine’s a killer,’ she tells me. ‘Don’t drink all your calories.’ ‘Bugger,’ I reply.

 

In truth, don’t walk, RUN up to her studio for a new step in your exercise journey. The day after my session I meet my friend Martina for a HIT (High Intensity Training) class at Queen’s. I notice that I breathe differently throughout and am more aware of my posture. I see that if I commit to a few more one to ones with Mary-Jo I’ll have the encouragement I need to see results and start using the weights at the gym myself, without feeling foolish and intimidated by the others around me.

 

A session with a good PT is an investment in your fitness, your confidence and self-esteem. Mary-Jo went to one herself 3 years ago; found a new way to train and was so inspired that she left her job in banking to become one herself. I’m very glad she did.

Here she is in action.

If you  need some inspiration for check out Mary-Jo Tunney on Facebook.