My father is partially deaf. My father makes comments to my mother about other people. My father thinks they are “asides”, which only she can hear. My father is mistaken. They are said at the same volume as a Chelsea fan, sat in the middle tier at Stamford Bridge, explaining to the referee the error of his recent decision. This can cause issues in restaurants.
Occasionally, the result is covered by the general noise that tends to be a feature of modern eating establishments. To the great relief of my mother, a comment, for example, concerning a garish floral dress often passes unnoticed by the wearer. Regretfully, this was not such an occasion.
Restaurants have become far more child tolerant in recent years. Indeed, as pubs have moved from pure drinking establishments to include the word “gastro” in their title, so children have entered these previously ‘adult only’ domains. Gone are the days of my childhood when on the occasion a public house was visited by my parents, I was left in the Volkswagen Beetle with a bottle of Coca Cola and a straw, perhaps with some Smiths Salt and Vinegar crisps to make it all more nutritionally balanced. If I was lucky, some chicken in a basket would appear through the car window as if by magic. I whiled away many a happy hour in pub car parks, wandering around checking tax discs on other vehicles, noting the registration numbers of the expired ones before contacting the relevant authorities.
Now, children of all ages and behaviours are welcome in every food serving emporium. My father does not approve.
Our latest trip was mistakenly timed with half term, and therefore, when we stopped for lunch, the car park of the pub was already packed with Renault Espace’s with the seemingly obligatory “keep back, baby on board” stickers on their rear window. I am not sure why anyone bothers to put these stickers on an Espace as there is no reason anyone would ever own one unless they had a baby on board. Put it on a Porsche 911, then respect, but an Espace?
We entered. Clearly, we had missed the sign advertising the fact the pub had a fun area, involving ball pools, slides and a bouncy castle. Clearly, everyone else had missed the sign saying it was closed for repair. As a result, we entered a place packed with children, and children who, having been promised that their boring morning at the retail park would end with an hour on an inflatable pirate ship, were feeling more than a little ripped off. And we had my father. The seeds of conflict had been sown.
We were ushered to a corner booth, this allowed my mother and I to sit either side of my father, so restricting the risk of any sudden movement involving his walking stick and a small child. The food was ordered, the drinks served. Phase One had been successfully reached.
Then, in the background, a small child’s began a wail. It rose from the general hubbub like an air raid siren. As it turned out, it was exactly the pitch that is warned about in instruction manuals for hearing aids, as it produces a resonance not unlike having a pneumatic drill placed in your ear.
My father paused, then winced as if stung. To his credit, he did nothing more. Then, the tone changed. The wail became a tantrum, the tantrum became a series of screams. The camel felt the last straw land.
In its own way, it was impressive, an 84-year-old man silencing a room full of disgruntled children in a instance, or rather six words. “Madam, kindly shut that child up”. I still do not know how the “madam” to whom he referred knew, from across the restaurant, that it was her. All the other mothers were still surprised by their offspring sudden silence and did not move. But she rose and marched towards him.
On arrival at our table, she explained, in far more syllables than even Donald Trump could tweet, the error of my father’s comment. My mother did not help by responding, having been told that the child was unwell, hence the noise, that “perhaps it was a bit cruel to bring the little chap out then”.
The waiter arrived and suggested the angry parent may now like to return to her seating. She did and my mother and I starred in shock and disbelief at each other before turning to face my father. The serene look in his eyes surprised us. A man, not known for keeping his views to himself had kept quiet during a minute of detailed verbal abuse. Seeing our gaze, he reached to his ear and turned his hearing aid back on. Apparently, after his outburst, he had turned it off to get some peace. He hadn’t heard a word she said.