They are two words I have come to loathe. I can cope with dog friendy, animal friendly, and even cyclist friendly (at a push – but gosh, they can be a pompous lot in their silly Lycra), but family friendly? No, thanks.
It’s a phrase that crops up on an almost daily basis now. There are family friendly tax perks, family friendly restaurants and, as I have discovered in recent weeks, family friendly sports clubs.
It wasn’t a problem I had in the US, where the LA Sports Club was an exclusively adult only zone. True, there were men who behaved like infants in there, shouting and jeering from their treadmills as they watched baseball on the in-built TV screens, but there were no screaming brats.
Since the New Year and back in the UK, I have been trying to find a decent sports club near where I live in Cardiff: one with a good gym, a pool, and a nice bar/restaurant to relax in after a workout.
First, I went to David Lloyd, where I thought I might take up tennis (although quite why I wanted to do so at my age is anybody’s guess – it seemed like a good idea at the time).
The cafeteria area was swarming – and I mean swarming – with children, running around yelling, while their parents sat drinking coffee, exerting no control over the monsters. On my tour, I was shown list after list of tennis leagues featuring said monsters, and, with a migraine fast coming on, I made my excuses and left. Game, set and match.
Another friend recommended the Village Hotel in Whitchurch. After driving around the car-park, trying to find a parking space for 20 minutes, I entered the foyer to find yet another crèche – even more screaming children and, worse, the disgusting, rancid smell of Starbucks coffee (is there no place left sacred from the infiltration of this vile chain?). I asked between what hours children were allowed in the pool and was told pretty much all the time. When I visited the pool, I swear a tap-dancing killer whale could not have taken up more space than the creatures in it.
Don’t get me wrong – I like children. I was one myself once. But it seems as if the whole of society is now so geared towards being family friendly that grown-ups wanting a bit of peace have no chance.
I have just endured yet another gross half term, entering every bar and restaurant to find dozens of little people screaming for burgers. I have battled with the Everest of push-chairs in doorways, queued behind fathers too lazy to take to take their kids to the park while their wives go shopping, and endured the screams at the end of the day from children bored out of their skulls watching their parents sit drinking.
Again, it is something I never saw in LA. On the rare occasions I saw children eating out, it was in establishments that specifically catered for them – in US terms, that means burgers and balloons.
The importance of the family unit has consistently been stressed by every British government, and the need to hold the family unit together by offering perks that benefit it is always close to the top of the agenda. But as an older single woman who, in Britain, is already made to feel consigned to the scrapheap of life, not being part of the family friendly picture serves only to intensify that feeling.
As a single person dining alone in LA, I was never made to feel like a second-class citizen and shunted off to a corner of the dining room, for fear of contaminating people who had managed to find their life’s soul mate. The same is true of Paris, where I spent six very happy years.
But in the UK and, indeed, most other parts of Europe, I am made to feel a nuisance even for deigning to set foot outside the door by myself.
Heck, I can’t even have the Chateaubriand or paella in a restaurant, because it is “for two persons only”.
I can’t take advantage of any Groupon or Living Social meal or holiday, because they, too, are for two people.
I can’t take advantage of special deals on the railways, because the really good packages are for families or groups travelling together.
Many package holiday deals continue to add “single supplement extra”.
Let’s get one thing straight: as a single person, who has never married and never had kids, I am likely to spend more than the average family. I don’t go into a restaurant and order a salad between four and a jug of tap water. I like good food and wine and am willing to pay for the best of it.
All I ask is for a pleasant, quiet, family free environment in which to enjoy it.
Is it really so much to ask?