After all, they have grown up in England and as such have adopted the custom of complaining privately about bad service, only to smother with “thank yous” the person who eventually arrives I think this is very strange indeed, and refuse to adapt Therefore the children have to watch me like a hawk. My job was to run around like a maniac trying to please customers who made Victor Meldrew look cuddly. (I skip over my phase of pouring coffee over the most irritating ones. Why wreck a good moral tale?)My eyes get a little misty, and it’s hard to tell when exactly the children’s glaze over.
“I would have been fired for this,” I note, perhaps a bit loudly. I paint a picture of the Palm: there was a swordfish on the wall, home-made lemon meringue pie in the cooler and a chef who was always just one order away from exploding. I do this for obvious reasons, but also so that the children can learn how to do it. After all, I announce – not for the first time – no one ever seemed to feel shy about demanding that I serve them with a smile when I was a waitress.The topic of my career as a waitress at the Palm Cafe in a small town on America’s West Coast is one that I particularly warm to as we sit in some corner of a restaurant waiting for someone – anyone! – to notice our existence. But by the age of five children can clock the fact that everyone else’s mother does not drive around in her nightgown, and other fathers do not dance the watusi at the drop of a drumbeat.
Soon any sign of originality from a parent is cause for much rolling of the eyes and shrugging of the shoulders. Sometimes, however, merely embarrassing parental behaviour can mutate into something truly excruciating It can be anything. In my father’s case it was a dreadful bobble hat that he took to wearing in public so often that I finally had to take matters into my own hands.
In my own case the problem (as my children see it at least) is that I believe in customer service. Not only do I believe in it, but sometimes I actually request it. They’re saying, `Hi Lola, we’ll stand here, and when you wake up we’ll tell you a story.’ So I have to make up a story for the trees. There’s a small birch wood in Richmond Park, close to where I live; it reminds me of that forest in Poland. I often go there and feel the peace.”Deborah Ross is on holiday.