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.’

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