Chitra Ramaswamy: Hey kids, leave me alone
I LOVE children. They say the funniest things and so on. Hell, I was once one myself. It’s just that I don’t see why they get all the top tables in town
Sunday morning, and Tiny-but-Deadly and I are in a café in the leafiest reaches of smug suburbia. Two sisters out for a long, leisurely weekend breakfast, because we deserve it. We've also decided, because we deserve it, not to go to our usual café on the corner – the one with the wobbly chairs and the slopey writing on the blackboard with all its infuriating apostrophes. Instead, we have upscaled to the posh place over the road, the one with the whitewashed brick walls, vintage crockery and life-changing pots of tea that cost £3.50 (at that price I reckon they must change your life; I mean, it can't just be tea leaves in there). The one, in other words, with all the children in it.
Now, I love children. They say the funniest things and so on. Hell, I was once one myself. It's just that I don't see why they get all the top tables in town. Why do they, and the yummy mummies from whence they came, come before the rest of us hapless, hardworking, full-size folk? Why should their sticky fingers get to the good cakes first?
It starts badly. “Table for two?" the waitress asks. “Yes," we sigh. I detect a glimmer of pity in her eyes that, yes, terrible I know, but it is indeed just us. Two tired, hungover women in their 30s who, what with full-time work, keeping up with the Leveson inquiry and staying on top of the handwash pile, still haven't quite got round to procreating. She walks us through the bright, beautiful room, past the high chairs and building blocks, and stops at a dingy alcove next to the toilets. I can't see the ‘Reserved for Childless People' sign, but it's probably because my eyes are still adjusting to the dark.
We order coffee, which is about as subversive as it gets in a tea house. We try to hold an adult conversation above the din of screaming children but soon give up to watch in silent terror as more mothers toting their stripy-clothed, Innocent-smoothied offspring descend. It's all rather Hitchcockian, albeit with babies instead of birds.
The last time it happened I was in a park café on my own, enjoying a quiet working lunch. This involved eating a bowl of pasta while holding a smartphone in each hand, one to read the headlines, the other to reply to e-mails. OK, I wasn't also breastfeeding and changing a nappy with my feet, but other than that there was some seriously hardcore mummy-esque multi-tasking going on. A gaggle of tots came in, complete with Cath Kidston accessories and don't-mess attitude. They sat at the table next to me. The children started zooming around the café, roaring in the manner of military aircrafts. One came over and tried to steal the ring off my finger. “Esme," clucked the mummy, or perhaps she was Fagin in a ponytail and Whistles trousers. “Come for a cuddle and leave the poor lady alone."
The poor lady continued working, keeping a close eye on her jewellery. The mummies continued their everlasting lunch, laughing and talking and tossing their ponytails. Meanwhile little Esme, ringless and rageful, disappeared to a quiet corner. I set aside my phones for a moment and watched with interest as she pulled down her tights and made a protest of her own in a neat, warm puddle on the floor. To be honest, I knew exactly how she felt. n
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