There are some things I avoid doing with my son: shopping for shoes or underwear for me (or worse still, when the underwear is actually lingerie). Hanging out at make-up counters. Getting my nails done. Not because of some ridiculous gender stereotyping issues (He's a boy! He CAN'T go to a make up counter!) but more because he's a boy and he's bored stiff at a make up counter. Or whilst waiting for me to be filed and painted.
Oh, and the sight of a bra (we're back in the lingerie dept now) reduces him to a jelly-legged, crimson cheeked giggling wreck. It's one of those things that makes me quite envious of my friends with daughters; they get to do nice things. I get to roll in mud and measure worms and not buy bras.
So, when I was offered the opportunity to take my mud-encrusted worm measuring son for afternoon tea I was torn.
Afternoon tea would be something I could imagine my well-scrubbed nieces enjoying in their pretty dresses, hair ribbons and shiny Mary-Janes. My long-haired, skinny-jeaned DS-wielding son and a plate of scones just didn't seem a likely combination.
I weighed up the pros and cons: the potential of a flung egg and cress sandwich and my son saying something awful ('Mummy licks the knife sometimes when she makes sandwiches at home') versus our usual afternoon snack of a cup of tea and a custard cream. Afternoon tea won hands down and we headed to the Tube.
The Athenaeum on Piccadilly is small family run luxury hotel that is renowned for its family-friendly focus – they have in-house nannies, and were the first hotel in London to have a dedicated kids' concierge service.
This year, to make it even more family-focused, Disney have set up a Winnie the Pooh playroom for the use of families staying there. The room is decked out like Hundred Acre Wood, with life size Winnie, Tigger, Pooh and Eeyore standing guard, along with a plethora of toys to keep even the fussiest of youngsters entertained.
Despite its glitz and glamour, the hotel is by no means stuffy or imposing; as we hung out in the lobby waiting for the lady from Disney to show us around, we were checked upon regularly and not so much as an eyebrow was raised when my son made loud demands for 'a wee'.
On first glance, I wrote the playroom off as being a bit young for an eight-year-old, but what do I know - within minutes he was snuggling up to Winnie, and then engrossed in building with Lego. Confusion ensued when one of the hotel staff appeared with such a vast collection of DVDs for him to watch that he actually got round to seeing nothing, unable to choose a title. Had I been staying there, the room would have undoubtedly been a god send on rainy days or simply when I had reached that point where I needed my child to stop talking at me or asking questions...
But the main focus of our visit. To eat. Whilst the playroom is running (until the end of summer, 9th September) the hotel is making up Winnie the Pooh themed hampers for families to take out for picnics; the spread is based on the hotel's regular honey themed afternoon tea, but in order for us to fully enjoy the playroom, we scoffed it in situ rather than in the dining rooms.
Now, it is entirely fair to say that my son, bone china and dainty cucumber sandwiches did pose a potential threat to the pristine carpets and taupe walls of the playroom, and the wisdom of several platters of cakes, a small boy and a mum on a diet was somewhat questionable, but once I quelled my parental anxiety with a goats' cheese roll and an egg mayo on rye bread, I started to relax. And it was fabulous.
William ate more than he ever does at home, and the tweeness of it all actually had a rather positive effect on him; he handled the crockery as though it might shatter at any moment (er...), and his belt-and-braces approach to napkin donning – one in the collar, one on the lap – showed he was mindful of his surroundings AND his clothes, (and, best of all meant we didn't journey home with an egg encrusted shirt).
Given that I am the most neurotic parent EVER, and live in fear of people muttering 'feral brat' under their breath when we're eating out, I actually really enjoyed taking him for a totally different dining experience.
So afternoon tea is NOT just for girls and we'll deffo be indulging in it again - who knows, we might even progress to an actual dining room in the future – although I think I'd insist on best bib and tucker rather than those jeans and an un-tucked shirt...
Oh, and that playroom is a fab idea. More hotels should take note.