Yes, it was a mistake; of course it was a mistake. My wife and I exchanged knowing looks as we entered the hall of the oh-so-very posh guesthouse. Plush carpets, tasteful décor – and look at the furniture! Oh no, we did not feel out of our depth. We could feel at home in those surroundings. But would our Paul behave himself? I held his hand tightly as Mrs Swimhome showed us upstairs to our room.
‘Dinner at eight sharp. We’ll ring the gong.’
‘Will the… er… child… require anything special? We do not especially cater for the very young I am afraid.’
‘No, he’ll be fine. He’ll have whatever we have.’ I replied not very confidently. Would he? He’d much rather have beans on toast. It was difficult enough to keep him sat down for his morning cornflakes, let alone a three-course meal in a genteel guesthouse. And chatter. Once he got going he was incessant, would talk non-stop during a meal. Oh yes, it was a mistake.
Once Mrs Swimhome had gone, we gave Paul a talking to. A lecture... Not a we’ll-kill-you-if-you-show-us-up one. More of a please-try-and-be-on-your-best-behaviour-for-your-Mum-and-Dad one. But he wouldn’t sit still. He was too excited. We unpacked. Paul jumped up and down on the bed. We put on the TV so he’d sit quietly. He started singing. Loudly. I sat and read him his book. He was bored. He wanted to go to the beach. I explained about posh hotels, how people like peace and quiet and did not like noisy little children. He promised to be good. But could he? Would he? At home we were relaxed and easy going. Noise was tolerated, almost the norm, but there in that antiquated, respectable and oh-so-straight-laced hotel all was quiet. Until we brought our Paul, that was.
‘I’ll sit next to him, he’ll be alright.’ I said.
‘We’ll have to keep him occupied.’
‘He’ll be alright,’ I assured And Paul smiled up at me. Such innocence, such an adorable little menace.
The gong sounded dead on eight o’clock. With some trepidation we made our way down to dinner. Washed, brushed and changed, we talked quietly as we entered the dining room. Full dining room. Full of genteel, posh, elderly ladies and gentlemen silently supping their soups, spoons outward. We exchanged nods and hellos and smiles and made our way to the number 17 table. The first course was fine. And Paul was good. We relaxed a little. Whether it was the combination of the silence, the calm or the strangeness of the surroundings… he was good. We were almost proud. He asked bright questions, made polite remarks. Even remembered his pleases and thankyous, with a bit of prompting, that is. But oh, would we be glad when it was all over. He ate his food without complaint. Didn’t get up and run around. It was hard work. We cajoled him, persuaded him, talked to him and tried to keep him interested. The service was excellent, thankfully. I dare not think what he would have been like if we had to wait for anything. We chose chicken for the main course and he didn’t insist on having tomato ketchup. Used his own knife and fork, well, almost all of the time.
‘Would the boy like ice cream for dessert? I think we have some wafer biscuits.’
‘Yes please!’ Paul answered enthusiastically. Oh Joy! He was behaving so well. So normal.
‘After dinner coffee will be served in the TV lounge.’ We had won. A feeling of elation spread over us as we relaxed in front of the TV sitting on an immense soft settee. The room was full and we were feeling positively relieved. The TV was too quiet to hear properly and people were talking quietly. He had been so good. A new child. An angel. I smiled confidently as Mrs Swimhome brought in some more coffee.
‘What a good little boy.’ Everybody looked our way. And at Paul. And he was so quiet. I followed their looks, down at him as he sat next to me. Just as he extracted an index finger from his nose and produced the biggest bogey I had ever seen.
Yes, it was a mistake.