|Rick the Vic minus sackcloth, plus poppy: in christening mode, October 2009|
It wasn’t easy to tell whether this was an assertion of his own faith, or an instruction to the rest of us as we consulted our watches and drummed our fingers on the tables, waiting for our Sunday roasts to arrive. Then Mrs H pointed out that it was actually an abbreviated version of my own popular phrase or saying, “Charlie, for the love of God leave that thing alone!” Which is, to be honest, one of the milder things I tend to say in such circumstances as when, say, attempts to distract a hungry 21-month-old with a 3D crossword puzzle have resulted in him flinging the little wooden balls over the floor, where they seem highly likely to result in a Chaplinesque disaster involving a charming young waitress going arse over tits and hot gravy ruining a sweet old lady’s perm.
I would be the worst person in the world to run a pub. Well, unless you have a fancy to experience a less witty version of the sort of grumpy landlord persona brought to complete perfection by my dear and late friend Ray Matthewman of the Warenford Lodge in Northumberland (and before that of the Plough and Fleece at Horningsea, near Cambridge). Or perhaps a distinctly less gay and somewhat less outrageous variant on the late Kim de la Taste Tickell from Whittlesford, almost certainly also with poorer catering.
But one thing I have learned about running a pub and am happy to share with the licensed trade in general. When someone orders a meal from the kiddies’ menu, bring that out first. And not last, as every pub in England seems determined to do. Every time we go out with The Boy, his face lights up at the approach of a member of staff and he proclaims “Charlie dinner!” as a steaming plate approaches the table, only to find it plonked in front of someone else. The other day in Tarporley this happened a full six times before he finally got lucky.
Incidentally, every meal is “Charlie dinner” so far as The Boy is concerned, including breakfast, so I don’t feel that I need to worry yet about his place in society, and the fact that People Like Us eat luncheon in the middle of the day.
Last Sunday Mrs H and I had ordered starters, in an attempt to test the capabilities of a pub we had not visited before. And also, to be honest, because we were a bit greedy. It turned out to be a pretty good move because they were actually a damn sight nicer than the subsequent Sunday roast.
Yet even though I had taken care to specify that the plate of sausage and mash from the kiddies’ menu should arrive with our starters rather than our main courses, it still took its time, allowing the entire pub to be entertained for a while by cries of “Charlie dinner!” and increasingly frantic hand gestures as he tried to catch the attention of a passing waitress.
And when it finally did arrive – well, here is the second lesson that I can share with the great British pub trade this Tuesday Spring morning: it is not actually necessary to heat up items from the children’s menu in an attempt to replicate conditions in the melting core of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. In fact, it is positively counter-productive, because all it does is replace the cries of “Charlie dinner!” with ones of “Charlie dinner too hot!” The caring adult at the table then has to let her own remarkably tepid food grow stone cold as she chops the aforementioned sausages into tiny pieces, and frantically blows on them to cool them down.
This has the slightly unfortunate side effect that, after a year or so, it becomes such a habit that one may take one’s partner to a smart London restaurant like The Ivy and look on in pained horror as she sits blowing on each forkful of food before she consumes it.
At least the sausages passed muster when they were finally cool enough to be eaten, and the accompanying gravy was apparently positively delicious. But it seemed that the mashed potatoes weren’t quite right. At any rate The Boy shook his head when he was asked if they were nice, so I made the fatal mistake of trying to find out what was wrong with them. “No, Daddy, no!” he shrieked as I advanced with my fork. “Naughty Daddy! Not Daddy dinner! Charlie dinner!” These are words we have heard many times before, albeit normally substituting “Goggie” for “Daddy” as they tend to be directed at The Dog. Which used to be called “Goggie” because for some reason he could not pronounce the “D” in “Dog”, though he could manage it just fine in “Daddy”.
|Just who is in charge here?|
|And who will sort out the inevitable tangle? (Mummy, who sorts out everything else.)|
Then came the glorious moment in Northumberland a couple of weeks ago, on 14 March to be precise, when he went for a walk and suddenly found that he could call The Dog “Craster” rather than “Goggie”. Each day now brings another little landmark of this sort, and I would not miss them for the world. It doesn’t make Craster any more inclined to obey him, but at least he is mercifully gentle and tolerant, and happy enough to play along with the illusion that The Boy is taking him for a walk, as we did after lunch, rather than the other way around.