Monday, September 19, 2005

Rainbow Connection in Paradise

I'd like to consider myself as not being particulary snobby - how can I be when my favourite outfit is what I'm sitting here wearing right now - sneakers, paint-speckled trakkies and a 7 year-old windcheater? However, as my heart, mind and body hurtles at sonic speed towards the frighteningly late thirties, I am becoming aware of what I'm no longer prepared to accept as being 'good'.

Last weekend my six year old and I met up with Catherine the Elegant and her 4 yo red-head to don our free 3D specs to see 'Shark Boy and Lava Girl.' We weren't in direct centre of the cinema so some of the effects were a bit hazy, but our two kids were transfixed; their wonka bars left uneaten - in fact two hats melted onto red-head's jeans pocket afterwards - us mums were amazed at just how much melted chocolate a travel-sized baby wipe can deal with. Despite having his butt cheek scrubbed furiously in the dark, red-head and six year old girl's chup-a-chups remained affixed in their cheeks and their eyes never left the screen. For me the movie was a bit of an aural and visual challenge to sit through after suffering a migraine only eight hours earlier, but I was surprisingly starving for lunch afterwards.

My vibrating handbag alerted me that Love Chunks was on the phone and had booked us all a table at the Paradise Hotel. Located, of course, in the very confidently named suburb of Paradise. The hotel's main attraction was that it evidently had a covered outdoor playground for children. As all parents know, the celebrity chef, groovy decor or glowing review in Gourmet Traveller is no longer the reason for selecting a place to dine - it is whether it offers a playground and/or paper and crayons for our kids to use to amuse themselves. It is a sad, yet unavoidable fact that our little oompah loompahs are never prepared to tolerate the waiting involved in ala carte cuisine, even if it is just hotel food that needs to be yanked out of the freezer and flung straight into the deep fryer.

So, whilst our expectations of experiencing a culinary nirvana in 'Paradise' were miniscule, we still did expect something vaguely edible in a family-friendly environment. Maybe a hearty and well-cooked schnitzel or crunchy Caesar salad whilst sipping some ice cold chardy and looking out the window at our happy little monkeys on the plastic pipe slippery dips perhaps.

Alas, the Paradise did not live up to it's name right from the get-go. The place was a glass-walled brassy barn packed full of pensioners determinedly waddling around with volcano-sized helpings of smorgasbord salads and oily veges from the self-serve bar. The carpet was an axminster nightmare (kind of like those Australian Way jumpers that no-one buys at airports mated with cheap christmas present wrapping) that was obviously designed to mute noise, disguise any stains and to scare any over-imbibers into phoning for a taxi home. The chairs were no doubt the coolest thing for wedding receptions circa 1982 as were the plastic carnations on the table. Never mind, I reminded myself sternly. As long as they can do some decent pub grub and our monkeys get to have a play, then life will be good.

The weather let the outdoor play area down rather badly. It was one of those showery blustery days where it seemed as though the rain was being blasted horizontally - unfortunately directly into the faces of the few brave under-7s who were determined to stay outside. Our six and four year olds were not. "Where's my pasta, Dad?"
"Mum, don't they give us bread to eat before my schnitzel is cooked?"
Blushing, I managed to mumble a few excuse mes to the determined smorgasbord veterans and snaffle up some bread that was about as fresh as a stack of bathroom tiles.

The kids didn't mind though, until the band started up. Why on this earth does the Paradise need a band at lunchtime on a Sunday for gods sake? The first two instrumentals were mildly annoying but relatively easy to ignore, but when the rotund, fifty-something guitarist treated us to his version of Kermit the Frog's 'Rainbow Connection', we three adults were glancing anxiously at the saloon doors of the kitchen - where the HELL were our lunches?

"Some day you'll find it, that rainbow connection, for lovers, for dreamers and me...." Our plates were dumped on the table without knives, forks or napkins. "Um, excuse me...? Hello?" A few moments later my angry twin emerged: "Oi! We need cutlery and napkins here!" Poor little red-head's schnitzel looked about as appetizing as our back door mat, and our girl's pasta was not unlike a bowl of vomit stuck to a heap of foam chips. Two mouthfuls each and they rushed outside; more eager to play in the rainstorm than risk their health indoors any further. My fish was an insipid white blob speckled with chunks of raw garlic; Elegant was happy to just have ordered a bowl of chips and LC, like the proud father (and required eater of leftovers he is) resolutely ate all of his steak - black on the outside and oozing blood on the inside.

"Remember, your children get a free sundae with their meal," smiled a waitress (not at us, but at her boyfriend behind the bar), as she flipped some laminated cards on the table as she passed by. Oh goody, and just when the Tubby Trio on stage were about to launch into a casio keyboard solo during 'Windmills of your mind.' The kids seemed quite prepared to come back into the axminstered pensioner palace when we gestured through the window that icecream and strawberry topping was awaiting them.

"Can you hurry it up please love?" I muttered to my daughter over the Tubby Trio's 'Age of Aquarius.' Of course she couldn't; she had to stir it all into a whirlpool of icky pink porridge, didn't she, and encourage red-head to do the same. Elegant, LC and I remained stuck in our chairs baring our teeth in what we hoped passed for indulgent, parental smiles at our childrens' obvious enjoyment.

The Tubbies were finally off the stage! They too joined the smorgasbord society and sat at a sticky table next to the stage. "They should call themselves 'Will Play for Food' ", I whispered to LC. A uni student with what looked like a salt shaker for an Adam's apple cleared away our plates and glasses. "How was your meal?", he asked as per job requirements.
"You don't want to know," was my response. I realised that there was no point in making a fuss to a 19 year old guy who was just trying to pay his share of the rent and have some left over for Friday night beer money. It made my summer jobs of picking garlic, babysitting and apricot cutting seem not so terrible after all.

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