My parents came to stay last night on their way back from a few days holiday in Devon. After supper, made all the more succulent by the fact that I didn’t have to cook it, we decided it would be a fine wheeze to take advantage of the beautiful summer’s evening and go for a stroll along the seafront.
The toddler is currently keeping unsociable hours, her sleep patterns are totally out of whack due to a combination of teething, the heat and that despite my best efforts she will insist upon falling into a comatose state around about 5pm and refusing to wake until early evening, whereupon she’s ready to party for the rest of the night.
‘Why don’t we put her in the pushchair and take her with us’ suggested my mother, wondering whether a blast of evening sea-air might make her drop off. So once the other children were settled down, off we trotted; me with the lolloping labrador in tow and my parents dutifully wheeling the buggy – the novelty and enjoyment of pushing a child in the pram has yet to diminish 8 grandchildren down the line, my mum will glad-hand it away from me at every possible opportunity.
Like Pooh-bear my mother is always in the mood ‘for a little something’, except the honey is replaced by coffee or if she is feeling particularly adventurous, a Kir Royale and so she thought it would be rather civilised if we were to find a convivial establishment in which to sit outside and indulge her favourite hobby.
Sadly there isn’t anywhere open on the Hove/Shoreham stretch of the promenade on a summer’s evening, so once we’d walked a fair way along the seafront we went back into central Hove on our way home. Walking past the Slug and Lettuce in George Street, my mum spied empty coffee cups on an outside table, surmised they served coffee and went inside to be served, whilst my dad picked a table. We had a fair bit of choice, every single outside table was empty and indeed the bar inside probably only had about 1 customer, something which suited us quite well. The toddler had fallen asleep and the puppy is yet to outgrow his over-friendly and boisterous tendencies.
My mother approached the barman and asked for 3 large coffees and was met with a curt “I’m not serving you, you’ve got a child”. Not wishing to argue the toss or have an embarrassing scene, she promptly left, surmising that the chap just couldn’t be bothered.
As we trundled disappointedly back towards home, I wondered aloud whether or not it was a licensing issue, which didn’t really make any sense seeing as we were sat outside and hardly likely to cause a problem, especially with the baby asleep. My dad thought that the person clearing the tables had heard me deliberating whether or not to order a G&T and was being over-zealous or a nannying fuss-bucket, and was taking a “I’m not serving you alcohol when you’ve got a child to look after” attitude.
We were completely baffled and rather humiliated to boot. We were told that our custom was neither wanted or welcome, on account of having a small sleeping child in a pushchair, with no explanation given as to why her presence posed such a problem.
Reflecting on it later, the encounter proved rather useful, in that it was a timely insight into how Michael Black and John Morgan might have felt when turned down for a double room at Peter and Rosemary Bull’s guesthouse. They felt that they had done nothing wrong and yet were made to feel like irresponsible pariahs, thanks to the religious views of the proprietors, to which they did not subscribe.
It’s very much how I felt, perhaps like the Bulls, the Slug and Lettuce do have a very good reason for refusing to serve customers with babies, a friend from these parts who is a vicar’s wife recounted a similar experience of being denied a hot drink due to having a baby when returning from an evening service at the church which is almost next door, but whatever their reason is, the surly barman didn’t bother to communicate it properly and made my mum and myself (being the person who has responsibility for said small person) feel about 6 inches tall.
It’s not the first time I’ve been turned away from an establishment, in my decadent hey-day as a
trolly dolly, cabin crew, certain gay clubs would have the effrontery not to admit women, which similarly was often rather embarrassing if you were on a night out down-route with your colleagues (being stranded in the middle of Amsterdam, Cologne or Bangkok is no joke), but I always took it in my stride. Their gaffe, their rules and if having a small group of women was going to cause a problem or upset their clientele, then fair enough, trying to gain entrance in the first place required some brass neck.
But just like LGBT clients who encounter retailers who won’t provide them with various services such as cakes, flowers, photography or cars for their weddings, I felt ‘judged’ and found wanting in the balance. Obviously there is something very wrong about wanting to sit outside a bar on a pedestrianised street in the middle of Hove with a sleeping baby in a buggy. I should instead have gone home and glugged my way through one of Waitrose’s finest wine-boxes free from the eagle-stares and disapproval of the imaginary other customers in the outside seating area.
Of course if I had a thicker skin, I would have not given two hoots. What does the opinion of a misanthropic barman and the management of the Slug and Lettuce matter? It was admittedly humiliating and mildly inconveniencing, we’d been looking forward to a drink after our walk, but lives were not lost. All they did was to tap into an innate insecurity and neurosis about what other people might think of me, for slightly unusually being out and about with a young child at a late hour. Which is I suspect closely related to the type of insecurity experienced by gay couples in terms of not liking it when their choices are not affirmed. I’m charitably assuming that the bar does have a good reason for not serving customers with children, even if they are lacking the skills to communicate their policy. At the end of the day, no matter how uncomfortable I felt, it’s still their prerogative.
Next time my parents come, we’ll know better and head off to one of the more friendly local establishments or hang the adventure, go to one of the Cafe Neros which stays open til late.
Readers won’t be surprised to learn that when I got home, I did what all self-respecting people with an axe to grind about customer service in this day and age do, namely moan about the service on Twitter as a result of which the Slug and Lettuce have invited me to fill-out an online form with my complaint and promised to investigate. People can make up their own minds whether or not to give the bar their custom.
It all seems a lot easier than taking someone to court, suing them for compensation, attempting to put people out of business and getting the law changed to ensure my feelings are never hurt in this fashion again.
Alternatively, a move to the Italian riviera seems the best solution all round.