The cry has gone up, as it does every so often.
“Ban all children from restaurants.”
It’s not very in keeping with the spirit of the season, in my humble opinion.
But it happens every so often. Someone decides that the young of the species are nasty little critters, and need to be kept separate from their elders. They don’t say it, but you get the impression they would like all youngsters to be kept in cupboards under the stairs, until they are not in any way young anymore.
I’ll tell you straight: I don’t like those people.
It’s not that I’m Mary Poppins or anything, I don’t want to spend my days dancing among the chimney pots with the little ones, but I just don’t think life is improved for anyone by keeping children confined to separate quarters. Previous generations tried that, and the results were not good.
I’m quite happy to declare an interest here, which is that I love taking my two-year-old grandson to cafes and restaurants.
I’ve been doing it since he was six months old and we have never had a bad time yet - apart from that once when he yelled, squirmed, knocked his food out of my hand and required a nappy change, all at once. And in a restaurant that was full of unsympathetic men doing that “business lunch” thing.
But everyone is allowed one off day.
Apart from that it has always been fun and we have never upset anyone else, in fact I would say that a bit of peek-a-boo and a round of waving with a smiling toddler has made the day more fun for a few fellow diners.
In cafes we like to share a scone; in restaurants, well anything goes.
This week we tried the Bavarian restaurant in the German Market in Leeds City Centre and discovered a mutual passion for potato dumpling, red cabbage and pork. It was like a fight to the death trying to each get that last piece of dumpling, and it wasn’t easy prising it out of his small, chubby hand, but I steeled myself.
To save others, I’m always equipped with wipes to put right the chairs, table and floor as we go and I don’t allow any annoying and potentially dangerous running about. I can’t claim it’s ever a relaxing experience - but it’s better that that: it’s fun, and it’s a joy to see a child learning to enjoy different food and interacting with the rest of the world in a happy, fearless way.
But most of all, it’s just pleasant. It’s pleasant to sit amongst a mix of all ages, just eating, talking and smiling, and generally enjoying ourselves together.
Why would you want to impose some age segregation on that? No one wants their experience destroyed by children who are out of control, but mostly they are not.
I hate the idea of segregation of age groups in general and I can’t understand why anyone would want it.
Once, in one of my “let’s downsize” moments, I went to view a flat. Imagine my horror when I realised it was in a sort of ghetto of apartments for “mature” people who only wanted to live alongside other mature people. It had its own restaurant and gym on site and everything.
There wasn’t any actual barbed wire around its perimeter but it felt like there was. There was virtual barbed wire around it, in the heads of the strange types who thought it would be a good idea to live there, untroubled by any youthful exuberance, any life, any noise, any young dreams or hopes.
Politeness meant I couldn’t exactly retch and run, but I made my excuses and left the quiet, manicured, deadly atmosphere as fast as I could.
I don’t want to sit in silent restaurants with only other middle-aged couples around me, I don’t want to lose touch with anyone who is not at the same life stage as me. That is a sure route to becoming old, miserable and boring.
And I don’t intend to give up on my restaurant adventures with a two year old - they are far too much fun.