In England we get most things right. We have free healthcare, our system isn't corrupt, we have decent maternity care and a leading education system. It's a good place to live, we're doing alright.
But one thing, that surprises and irks me, that we get SO wrong is our attitude to children and socialising.
My rage has been fused by a recent article written by Janet Street-Porter, a woman I often thought made sense, until now. In her article, she lists the number of reasons why she'd ban children from cafes and restaurants. Well Janet, how about we just ban you and everyone will be happy!
Here's the thing, I'm with you that screaming, unruly children need to be disciplined, wherever that may be, and yes it can ruin a meal for sure. But lets not assume that all children scream all the time, and ruin it for everyone else. I'm actually of the view that children should be allowed everywhere, pubs, restaurants even cinemas - but the minute they get out of hand, the parent has an obligation to step in and sort them out. And if we didn't make going out such a novelty for children, and it was part of their daily life (like on the continent), then just maybe everyone would be better behaved. Case in hand, from as early as two weeks old my son was taken to restaurants with us and because of this is a delight to take anywhere. My good friend who decided against it has a child who can't be taken anywhere.
I went to Sardinia on holiday when my baby was four months old. We had no choice but to go out for dinner, and do as the locals by eating at 9pm. I was refreshed with their attitude, no matter where we went, how high end it was, people welcomed us and our baby with open arms. The locals love babies, and everywhere we went we were met with kisses and hugs, it was a culture shock. I tried to explain that you'd be shunned in England that your baby wasn't in bed at that time, getting looks from other people on a tight and unforgiving Gina Ford schedule, rather than just going with the flow. With my Mediterranean roots, I decided against a schedule until my baby needed one (once he started eating around six months), and it allowed him and us the freedom we needed. One thing's for sure, we are far too uptight in England.
One thing we can learn from our European sisters is that a family society is a welcoming society. Alcohol isn't a big deal, it's on tables from a young age and children are always out with their families, no matter what time of day it is. The family is the unit, the centre of society. And that is something we are so desperately missing.
Just a few weeks ago we were on holiday in Miami and decided we deserved a nice dinner at our favourite spot - Hakkasan. I was shocked that it had baby chairs at the ready and even cleaned my baby's food utensils after feeding. Can you even imagine that happening in the UK? And yes there was the occasional scream from him, and I did the right thing and calmed him down, but it was met with smiles and sympathy and not daggers and apathy.
When it comes to dining out, my sympathy isn't with child-free couples who have the luxury of going out every night of the week, at any time, to anywhere. It's with the exhausted, ambitious parents, who rightly so want to take their children out with them and introduce them to eating out, new tastes and other experiences. The parents who have worked all week, slept half as much as you, and need just an hour or two of respite with someone else cooking. Is that too much to ask for?
But, one thing I'll say is that I do admire Janet for her honesty. It's true that not everyone will want to be in the company of children, and as someone who spent 36 years of their life child free, I have a healthy understanding of what that's like.
But one thing has changed my view completely - and that's the kindness of strangers. I used to be the woman that looked in distain if a baby was sat in breathing distance of me on a plane, and I'm ashamed to say, I was the girl who got up and moved in a restaurant if kids were rumbucous and loud. But I was young and I didn't know better.
And then I had a baby, and experienced how kind and sympathetic the great British public are, and I realised how very wrong and uncompassionate and even selfish I had been in my previous life. I was humbled by the kindness of strangers offering to help me, giving me smiles on a plane even with a baby, and even picking up my baby to entertain him so I could have one mouthful of food.
Janet, your views are not unfounded, but they are most certainly not shared by anyone who has compassion.
What are your experiences of dining out with children - please share with me @milkdrunkdiary on Twitter.