Banning buggies is one thing, says Jess Fostekew, there ought to be places for people to go and not be surrounded by kids. But don’t tell folk they’re still welcome when they quite obviously aren’t.
It started with a kiss. Then I had a baby. So did many hundreds of other women in southeast London. Now the tiny, bald morons are everywhere. If the Daily Mail got whiff of how many babies are clogging up our hospitals and being jobs in themselves, they would shit their evil pants.
This influx means that where I live is heaving with support and wonderful stuff for us to do, lots of it free. In fact, the only thing I’ve coughed up for in a year of parenthood is a baby ‘sing and sign’ course. I had visions of him gesturing to me: “I need a wee wee,” or “It’s my tooth that hurts,” light years before he could talk.
Did he? Did he bollocks. £200 later and all he’d learned to do was play with the zips on an old man’s trousers (another baby’s granddad).
The reason I kept on with these classes was because I had a dear friend and her little ‘un doing them too. I was in it for the after-party. Every Wednesday we’d finish the class and go for lunch at Domali’s.
This was a wicked cafe over the road that had a killer menu. Great coffee but lush beer or wine as well. Plus a big garden, loads of highchairs and a friendly, higgledy-piggledy feel to it.
Partway through 2016 it closed for refurbishment. It reopened just before Christmas and the owners put an announcement on Facebook. It’s now a ‘bar and kitchen’. And, “Because of our new focus, our environment is much more adult orientated, so we will no longer be able to accommodate buggies or pushchairs.” A button immediately flew off Facebook’s shirt.
Getting out of the house with a little child is really tough and it is, I would say, a necessity for one’s mental health. So, in very recent years, women have successfully fought with their mouths, feet and wallets for places to be more welcoming for parents of babies and toddlers. Where I live, it’s worked. We’re everywhere now.
There are places where I feel bad. Places full of babies where you can see that was never the business’s intent. There’s no room for the prams and no baby changing and in one local case, it’s clearly trying to be a pretentious, quiet art gallery that happens to have a cafe. Clearly.
But dicks like me keep going in with their filthy, noisy baby because even thinking about their breakfast burritos makes me do an involuntary pelvic clench.
What to do? Not everywhere has to make babies welcome and it does seem as though, to make that stand, that has to be stated out loud – otherwise, they (we) will keep coming.
“Not everywhere has to be for everyone. And there absolutely should be places where people without kids who don’t want to be surrounded by kids can go.”
I phoned Domali’s and had a really lovely chat with Alison McNaught – one of the owners. She was kind, reasonable and clearly exasperated, “I feel like I’m constantly having to explain myself the last few days.”
First up I needed to ask whether it was just an issue of space? I said how much I love it, and asked, if I came with my child in a sling or on foot would that be OK? She gave an emphatic “Yes!” She explained that babies are totally still welcome and that they don’t want to lose that custom. It’s a lot of their custom.
McNaught explained that they’re just trying to stand out in an economy that’s tough for small businesses. They’ve sourced exciting local gins and retrained staff as cocktail wizards (my words) and want the place to be somewhere more creative.
At this point I felt nothing short of excited. Nowhere that wanted rid of mums would brag about its gins. But then I asked if there would still be highchairs? “No.” Oh.
Not allowing buggies makes it hard for people eating with babies and toddlers. Not having highchairs, once your kid can move but before it is about three, makes it impossible.
McNaught happily reported while we were on the call that a couple had just come in with their child on their shoulders because they were so determined to still come. It had the wrong impact on me on the other end of the line. Those people were making an enormous effort to show loyalty to somewhere that wasn’t for them anymore.
As our chat went on it turns out that this cafe’s repositioning came out of a “significant number of complaints”. Regular customers for years were sick of there always being kids in there. That is fair enough. And also a desire on the owners’ part for its brand to have definition. Personally I loved what a hotchpotch it used to be but I am no business-human.
Crystal Palace has gentrified and filled with new families at a frightening rate in the last five years. This cafe became something it never intended to be. A crèche. And they decided, not unfairly, to put an end to that.
There are tens of other places in walking distance where babies and toddlers are welcome. Domali’s aren’t to blame for anyone’s isolation. Not everywhere has to be for everyone. And there absolutely should be places where people without kids who don’t want to be surrounded by kids can go.
But. Places oughtn’t say, “Yes you are still welcome!” to a group of people who are not. Be bold and say, “This isn’t for you, sorry. I can put you in touch with lots of places that are.” Every business has the right not to want a load of babies in it. Christ. Similarly if you’ve got loads of babies, or one, you can choose to only go for lunch in places where you can both get there (with a buggy) and sit down and eat (using a highchair) without causing yourself spinal injury. Let there be Pramaggedon. I don’t know that everyone will survive it.
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Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.