The kids have been on summer break for 3 weeks now. It’s going ok on the whole. Computers are featuring quite heavily. The boy is obsessed with Fortnite and we are all being graced with the one sided conversations we can hear him having over his call centre head set and microphone combo, shouting things into the ether about meeting at Tilted, locating llamas, asking for med kits, shouting “revive me” and laughing maniacally about the ‘nubies’ (new, inexperienced gamers) who disappear fast!
The smallest child is hanging out in the bizarre world of Animal Jam which seems to involve collecting gems and buying furniture for her cave. The teenager is spending time in Primark mainly, sometimes H&M and New Look – you get the idea. There have been a few forays into the real world, all of us, together. There have been picnics. There have been cinema trips, bike rides, baking, an ongoing family version of Come Dine with Me where varying levels of culinary prowess have been displayed. And, there have been a couple of overnight trips to distant and exotic places like Bristol and Liverpool, to visit friends or to watch a football match or just to have a look round.
On our overnight trips, we stay in the finest hotels, by which I mean, Travelodge. Listen, it’s somewhere to lay our weary heads. We are developing quite an interest in this budget hotel chain whose sites are clearly selected for their outstanding locations and views. We have started a little photo collection of the views from our rooms so that we can always remember these special places. This is the view from the Liverpool Travelodge. Outstanding, I’m sure you will agree.
On one of our recent road trips, we had the obligatory ‘family’ discussion about where to eat. As parents, we have learned the hard way that there is no point going off script and trying something the children might not like, as this just puts everyone in a bad mood. So, the usual suspects as always were up for consideration: pizza, curry, pub, Nando’s.
The smallest child’s eyes lit up as she asserted a strong desire to visit Nando’s. This was a little surprising to the rest of us. As some of you may be aware, my youngest offspring is not the biggest fan of eating in general, sweets and ice-cream not withstanding. She sticks to the staples: pitta bread and hummus, pasta pesto, beans on toast, a very narrow selection of cereals, crackers and peanut butter (which makes my mouth feel dry just writing this). When we go out to eat, even the pizza (which used to be the safe bet) is problematic, as too much of that unctuous, gorgeous melted cheese is like the devil’s work to her.
It is for this reason that we were all somewhat surprised by her insistence on this restaurant. The last time we all went for a cheeky Nando’s, I ordered her a plain chicken burger. By this I mean, a piece of unseasoned, bland, grilled chicken, sitting between a dry burger bun, adorned with not one thing. Mmmm, my mouth is watering, isn’t yours? It arrived with a minute smear of mayonnaise on the bun. This was a deal breaker. The poor waitress was summoned and requested to bring a new burger, this time, devoid of any sauce. She possibly ate one bite? The chips were also abandoned.
Recalling this failed attempt to eat anything from the menu which, let’s face it, is chicken heavy, we all, including the older sister and the boy suggested that she might not find anything she wanted to eat at the place that sold chicken that she didn’t really like, and perhaps we should go to the pub that had slightly more than poultry on offer. But she was adamant and seeing as the rest of us can happily chow down on chicken in all its various and many guises, we headed to the restaurant.
The slightly harassed looking waitress seated us and we perused the menus. We all decided what we wanted, feeling quite hungry by this point, and then I turned to the monster child. I showed her the kids’ menu and read out the possibilities: plain chicken wings – this was met with a look of disgust. Ok, how about the chicken wrap, plain, minus all the other stuff they put in it obviously. Again, the face presented to me indicated she might be about to vomit. Finally, I suggested the chicken burger – surely this would be met with the nod of approval. This provoked the most violent reaction, a slight shudder and look of nausea with an eye roll. I am not proud, but I have to admit that at this point I lost my rag.
“What do you expect?” I said through clenched teeth. “It’s a chicken restaurant, this is what you eat here and you wanted to come here. I don’t understand.”
I was met with a trembling chin and eyes brimming with tears, but no explanation. After a brief pause, head down, she lifted her arm and pointed to a grey machine standing in the corner of the restaurant – it looked like a drink dispenser. The oldest child cottoned on first – it’s the frozen yoghurt. She wants the “bottomless” frozen yoghurt. Ohhhhh. That’s what she wanted. Dessert. But then it occurred to me that even this had been rejected on the last visit. She had filled up the bowl only to eat a few spoonfuls and then leave it to melt and separate back into its constituent parts of water, flavouring, food colouring.
So, we left. Much to the embarrassment of the teenager and the boy, we vacated Nando’s, abandoning our table and the menus and the waitress, a tearful and grumpy monster child trailing behind us and found the pub, where we ordered a pizza (margarita obviously) and watched her scrape lashings of oozy, stringy, satisfying mozarella off it before eating a slice, at which point, we shared the rest out between us.