Wednesday 18 September 2019

Sophie Donaldson: 'Fact: there's not a pub in the land suitable for your whingeing child'

I love kids, but there are some special places where they just shouldn't be seen, nor heard, writes Sophie Donaldson

TALL ORDER: Are pubs really suitable for children — of any age?
TALL ORDER: Are pubs really suitable for children — of any age?

It's a crisp Sunday afternoon in November. The last of the autumn leaves are like dying embers against an icy blue sky. After a bracing walk by the river you decide to make a pit-stop in one of your favourite pubs.

It's a warm pub, and just that; they don't do bar snacks, or cocktails, or karaoke. It's lined with dark wood and feels like you are stepping into a cosy, low-lit womb. There are two televisions but the volume is turned way down low.

Apart from the televisions, the only other gentle hubbub is from the patrons who, if they are speaking at all, do so in murmurs. The rest sit - with their Sunday Independents, naturally - enjoying a quiet pint.

It is perhaps how you intend on spending this very Sunday, and is how I spent mine last week. After taking an ease on two tall stools, we too sat sipping our drinks, using our 'inside' voices and generally enjoying the perfect Full Stop to the weekend.

Then, halfway through our drinks, an unruly screech ripped through the pub. It was, to the surprise of nobody, the underage patron who had come through the door a few minutes earlier - in a pram.

I have nothing against young children. I think. Mostly that they are very cute. I love to see them in their natural habitat - running around parks chasing pigeons, squawking in wonder at a petting zoo, or dozing on the shoulder of a doting parent.

But they are not so great in pubs, because pubs are not suited to their needs. Of course it's not their fault. Small children don't have a favourite watering hole - unless it's the free refills at their local Burger King. Their parents, on the other hand, certainly do.

One of the truisms about parenthood is that you will sacrifice nearly everything for your children - and that goes for your quiet nights at the pub.

Except, for a lot of parents, it doesn't. They may have a baby, but no matter! Prams are mobile. They are still young people and have the right to socialise in a public house just as much as the rest of us.

In this case, dad sat po-faced defiantly, or obliviously, sipping his pint, as baby continued to wail despite his wife's best attempts to shush him. The child was clearly bored and uncomfortable, given he was propped up on a high booth against a hard table edge with nowhere to crawl or squirm, as is the want of babies.

But it is not the physical circumstances that made their sudden appearance in our Sunday sanctuary so jolting, but the social ones. We childless folk do not take to loitering in playgrounds, cider in hand, intent on also enjoying the swings. We do not attend those play centres with the bouncy ball-filled pits, half a bottle of wine deep, ready to enjoy ourselves like every other paying customer.

We understand that just because we can doesn't mean we should, and not just because of the worried looks and raised eyebrows we'd incur. It's just common decency to acknowledge that your enjoyment does not supersede that of the people around you, or that because you have made a lifestyle choice that inhibits you from enjoying certain activities, you are not entitled to inflict the result of your decision-making upon the rest of us.

It's not that children shouldn't be outlawed from all pubs. There are plenty of spots where mum and dad can enjoy a drink while bribing their bundle with chicken goujons. If it has a kids menu and changing tables in the bathrooms, it's fair to assume it's a child-friendly place.

If it's mostly made up of hard, shiny surfaces and you can hear a clock ticking and the median age of its customers is 64, it's best to move on.

Perhaps that's what irked me so much about last Sunday's scene. It wasn't that there was a child in a pub, but that it was in that particular pub they had chosen.

Had we decided on an establishment with a row of high-chairs stacked against one wall we'd hardly have the grounds to complain - or in our case, collect our belongings and move into the second bar under the pretence that our seats by the door had suddenly become draughty.

We weren't the only ones who suddenly caught the fictional chill - a few minutes later a couple in their 40s followed suit. Perhaps they had come to this very place to escape the chaos of their own domestic arrangement, or perhaps not. Either way, it was so obviously a place for adults, a place of solitude, solace and measured imbibing - not a place for children.

Among parents and the childless alike, this is likely to be an unpopular opinion. There's nothing worse than a non-parent with the gall to suggest how to raise youngsters, nor anything more cruel than denying hardworking families the opportunity to let their hair down. Even worse is a person who appears to dislike children.

I am bracing myself for the proverbial flinging of dirty nappies my way, but even if my indulgences are put to one side, the fact remains, there's not any sort of pub that's suitable for children.

I think most parents would agree that the pub environment is not conducive to child-rearing; but when you have spent two days emitting nonsensical sounds rather than whole words, when there's still dried gunk on your lapel and Peppa Pig's theme song trills on loop in your head, it's understandable that a pint is perhaps far easier to swallow than the truth.

Sunday Independent

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