A couple of hundred Sundays ago a small group of us met for brunch. I'm not entirely sold on the idea of brunch; just as breakfast is breaking your fast, surely brunch is breaking (i.e. ruining) your lunch. I'd also recently read in Anthony Bourdain's book, Kitchen Confidential, about what suckers weekend brunch eaters were - weekend brunch being the perfect place to disguise and offload whatever hasn't sold by Friday evening. Problem was just as when I hear of a natural disaster half a world away all I think is 'ooo Minsk, looks interesting!' all I thought upon reading Bourdain's advice was 'mmm brunch, let's go somewhere on the weekend.'
Being East London in the early 21st century the place we chose was (back) achingly hip. None of the cutlery or crockery matched, bloody marys were served in old olive jars, the tables were on their last (three) legs and the chairs seemed uncannily like those from a primary school circa 1985.
Of course this kind of furniture-irony doesn't come cheap, unlike the furniture itself. While breakfast is the most important meal of the day, brunch is fast becoming the most expensive meal of the week. Compounding matters, on this occasion we were trying out a new deli-butcher-café, so on top of the broken chair surcharge we were paying a little extra extra to share the space with raw chicken and slabs of beef. Apparently there's a new place around the corner where they leave open rubbish bags strewn around the tables, but I'm not made of money.
This particular d-b-c was marketing itself as 'child-friendly' - not what most hungover 20-40 somethings are looking for in a Sunday. By the time we arrived - around 11ish - the place was already humming with hyperactive two-somethings, the chairs freshly coated in a rich saliva-honey glaze.
I could feel the exasperation rising out of the other members of our group, especially the men. They had hangovers to nurse, earnest art-house movies to dissect and neither of these pressing tasks involved toddlers. As I'm wont to do anytime I'm in a gathering of more than two people, I disengaged and stared blankly through the window at the primary school holding a garage sale across the road...
...a tug at my trouser leg brought me back into the room. I looked down to find an eighteen month old offering me a small fistful of peanut butter and for the first time since I gave up nutty spreads as a five year old I accepted it. Or at least I tried to; rather than pressing it into my palm he decided at the last moment to fling it into my face. Still, the thought was there: a handful of warm peanut butter is a great delicacy for their people and to be singled out in this way was an honour.
The mother of the child soon appeared in a haze of wet wipes, dry wipes, other children and apologies. Soon after we watched her and her daring ambassador leave the deli.
My brunching companions laughed at me, and then began recycling a hodge-podge of views on how certain (most) places should be toddler-free and how much better they'd do things if they ever put down their iPhones and became parents...and five minutes ago I might have agreed with them. An eyeful of peanut butter wasn't exactly what I'd ordered but it had done the trick and now I was hooked: I wanted one. I wanted to receive these gifts every day. I wanted to worry about him or her all the time, to be the one following behind their wobbly but determined journeys to strangers' tables, feigning apologies for Junior blowing metaphorical raspberries at your table or wiping literal raspberry jam into their trousers.
Last Sunday a slightly different 'us' wound up in a gastro pub around five in the afternoon. Once again the place was crawling with kids. The eye-rollers were there again too - not us this time - I spotted the furtive knowing glances that asked 'what happened to our happy hour?' This time I couldn't help but think they were right. This was a bar after all, somewhere to drown your sorrows and, if you're single, your inhibitions. (Insouciant sex has to start somewhere and as often as not this is at a pub). But for some reason the place we were in had become a proxy crèche. There were at least a dozen children tearing around, giggling, squealing, crying, visiting new tables and eventually returning to home base, laden with their findings. Pubs aren't nurseries. At the very least surely kids should be the exception, not the rule. This should be a place where young singletons don't feel uncomfortable if they're not pushing a pram.
But I don't really care. The singletons can figure it out. There are still plenty of clubs for the late teens/ early twenties crowd and miserable dive bars for the slightly older cynics. The world after the universal child's bedtime of 8pm still belongs to the 18-35s and, more to the point, I'd switched brands of selfishness - from the snide single to half a smug couple.
Because somewhere in the middle of that rolling maul of pre-tween energy careering its way around the bar was a wide-eyed, messy-haired not-yet two year old facsimile of me, and I'm besotted. I love everything about him; how he wobbles, babbles, sings and sometimes, even cries. Where once a baby's cry was marmite-coated nails on a chalkboard, now it's just my little guy letting me know he needs me.
I now receive regular gifts of food, often thrown, sometimes into my face. Bottles of cooking oil, books, sunglasses and toy trains are donated, either in person or left as a surprise to discover in the washing machine a few hours later. I'm regularly used as a racing track or climbing frame. The trousers I'm wearing right now are covered in jam and that's just how I like them.Suggest a correction