Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Number 100

"100," says Elly.

"What are you having?" I say.

"I don't know. I'm not hungry. I knew we shouldn't have had those cakes," Polly says.

"100," says Elly.

"What are you having?" says Polly.

"Steak and Kidney Pie," I say.

I feel sick. We have arrived at the garden centre restaurant directly from cakes and coffee at the bakery, but there's no way I'm backing down.

We planned to get the children's feet checked out at the shoeshop, then to go to the garden centre to buy seeds and have lunch, and that's exactly what we will do regardless of the fact that we added "Go to the bakers and eat a Chelsea Bun / Giant Gingerbread Man / Easter Basket" to the plan in a spontaneous moment.

The Number 100

A plan is a plan and anyway, I am going on an 8 week liquid diet from next Wednesday and this is part of my grand farewell to food.

"100, 100 Daddy, 100," says Elly.

"What are you having?" I say to Polly.

"I'm not sure," says Polly.

The Number 100

This is typical. We are in a queue. There are at least 32 people behind us. The queue has come to a standstill. The queue is hungry. It is a rumbling, ill tempered, slightly anxious queue, the type of queue where everyone seems to be under the impression that rationing is still the system by which everyday transactions occur.

"Come on Polly, there's a queue, what do you want?"

Polly frowns. I feel guilty.

"100," says Elly.

"What?" I say

The Number 100

"100." says Elly, pointing at the number 100 on the counter. It is in amongst all the other numbers, 24, 80, 78, 10, 100 14, waiting to be assigned as a table number so the harrassed teenager behind the counter knows which table to throw the gloop at.

"Yes, 100. What do you want to eat?" I say.

"100 Daddy, 100."

"Yes, you can read 100, you are a very special, beautiful, clever princess. Well done. I love you. What would you like to eat?"

"Ummm, Tomato soup please Daddy. Daddy?"


"Can we have the number 100?"

"Of course," I say.

"Polly?" I say.

"Can I have the ciabatta with mozarella and tomato?" she says. "And get the number 100,"

I tense my shoulders. That is such a bad choice. This is a garden centre. They are renowned throughout the county for great big stodgy meals that fill their customers to the point that they can no longer move. Rioting and anarchy at the tills are cleverly avoided by using the restaurant to create hordes of glassy eyed balding middle agers swaying, burping up tiny bits of gravy flavoured sick and gently wincing it back down.

I also feel as if Polly is taking the moral highground by her food choice. The only possible reason that she has chosen a fancy ciabatta with vegetables and no meat is to show me that my food choice is dangerous and immoral. I refuse to be defeated though.

"Hi, Can I get (since holidaying in Nepal with Anna Wolton I have always said "Can I get..." instead of "Can I have..." because it sounds very cool) a ciabatta with mozerella and tomatoes, a steak and kidney pie and a tomato and red pepper soup with two bowls," I say.

The Number 100

Elly is grinning at me, and pointing at the number 100. "100, 100, 100," she is saying.

"Sorry, we don't have the ciabatta with mozerella and tomatoes, we only have sausage and cheese ciabatta or chicken and bacon ciabatta,"

I am vindicated. This place can't even shift a single mozerella and tomato ciabatta. It is just on the board as a smokescreen for their cholestrol based crimes against the human condition.

I take one look at Polly's face and am filled with a deep fear. She has a look of disgust etched into her which says "I knew we shouldn't have come here for lunch, I knew it wouldn't work," Suddenly my vindication shatters to reveal the true nature of my position - terror. My lunch will be ruined. Polly is about to take the ultimate moral highground. I can feel an impending doom but I'm not sure what form it will take today I brace myself. I huddle my shoulders in anticipation. Here it comes...

"I won't have anything then," she says.

Oh no. This is a disaster. This is the worst thing that could possibly occur. What should I do? Polly doesn't want anything. This can only mean that she hates me.

The Number 100

I've been excited about this lunch since we first considered coming here on Wednesday night, it's the highlight of my weekend, that one landmark that has pulled me through the last few days of work, the 6 a.m. wake ups, the early nights, the bowls of cereal thrown across the kitchen, the rolling around the floor screaming "mooor tubbies, mooor tubbies, mooor tubbies," all this has been made bearable by the thought of this meal shining like a beacon, like a finish line, after which a new plan, a new goal, a new hope would have to be constructed.

This plate of food has been my comfort blankey. And now my comfort blankey is being pooed upon. By my wife. In front of at least 32 people.

"Oh please," I mutter.

"It's OK, David, just get your food, I'll have a filter coffee with cold milk, get the number 100,"

I know Polly has cold milk in her filter coffee, as many many times I have had to sit opposite her shaking gently and saying "Sorry, I forgot, are you sure you won't drink it, here, have mine, here, here's a knife, poke my eye out, here, here's a gun, please shoot my head off, anything, please don't leave me over hot milk."

"O.k. I've got it. Sorry, please can I just have the Steak and Kidney pie and the Tomato Soup."

The teenager taking my order at the counter looks at me as if I am her mum.

The Number 100

"Anyfing else?"

This is the point at which I should say "Yes, please could I have the number 100?"

Elly is beaming at me and pointing at the number 100.

Polly is holding Mick and pointing at the number 100. Mick has made her hair go in seven different directions and she has gone a bit red. Her face is saying "I knew this would be a fucking disaster."

I feel sad, angry, frustrated, humiliated, comprimised. All I want to do is make everyone happy.

The girl behind the counter is waiting for an answer. There is a look of pure scorn scrawled across her features.

This is where I'm supposed to smile ingratiatingly and say "Yes, one thing, I know this sounds a bit silly, but could I have the number 100?"

The Number 100

Instead I choose this moment to assert my independence and dignity, say "Nope, that's it," and I start to do Derren Brown mind control to influence her into picking the number 100. It works like this, in my head I repeat to myself

"Please give me the number 100,

Please give me the number 100,

Please give me the number 100..."

I watch her hand hover over all the numbers

"Please give me the number 100,

Please give me the number."

Her hand lowers towards the numbers,

"Please give me the number 100,

Please give me the numb.."

She grabs hold of a number, writes the number on the order, drops the number onto the tray and humphs off to the kitchen to put the order in.

Elly looks at me. Her lower lip juts out.

"It's nearly 100 Elly, look, it's a 10 - that's like a number 100," I say.

"Didn't you ask for the number 100?" Polly asks.

I cannot reply. What can I say? Yes? That's a lie. No? That's a death sentence. I just say "Wha?" and stare desperately at the doorway that the teenager has disappeared into.

Elly is crying. As if she had a pet pony and I have just killed it. She is sobbing.

I pick her up. She howls.

I look back at Polly.

Behind Polly at least 32 people look at me as if to say "You, are the worst father we have ever seen in our lives, not just a bad father, but also an overeater and a terrible human being. We all hate your guts. You are an idiot."

I know what I have to do. I do that varigated inbreath that holds back the tears and hold it until the sullen teenager gets back. She looks at me. The look in her eyes says "What the fuck are you still doing here? I've got at least 32 people to serve."

I grit my teeth and grin,

"Hi, could you possibly change this number for the number 100?" I say.

The Number 100

"The number 100?" she says. She is incredulous, then furious.

She looks at me, at my screaming child, at my harrassed wife, and back at me. Her lips dissapear. Her eyes narrow and she shakes her head almost imperceptibly. She reaches over for the number 100, slams it on my tray and walks back to the kitchen without a word.

I look back towards Polly. She is walking off towards the tables with Mick and shaking her head in embarrasment.

At least 32 people are all gesturing at me, gesturing at my family and shaking their heads in disgust.

The Number 100

I feel utterly alone.

I look at Elly. Her cheeks are decorated with perfectly formed tears. She looks at the number 100. She bites her bottom lip and smiles at me.

"Thank you Daddy," she says.

She cuddles me tightly around my neck and whispers into my ear...

"I love the number 100."

A Number