I don't know about anyone else, but since we became hooked on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, The Husband and I can't help approaching local eateries with the thought 'what would Gordon Ramsay say?'
The local pub is a faux Irish affair that adheres to the old 'charge double for the same food as you get in the front bar in the dining room' rule. Business seems to have picked up considerably in the last couple of years, but I strongly suspect it's due more to the rocketing fortunes of Yarraville itself than anything to do with the pub. It's the kind of place where they manage to stuff up chips and a parma. Quite a skill, really.(The Husband was once served a chicken parma with a large round hole in the middle of it, and when he complained, was told it just came like that. It cost $18.50.)
Last night, I took the family out to a celebratory dinner at the pub. I had just achieved my (rather modest) stated career ambition by finally getting publication in a place I've been chasing for some years. And The Husband officially finished uni last week.
"I'm buying," I rather grandly stated. "It's locals night at the pub." Big spenders, us. "We're celebrating!"
"What are we celebrating?" asked F, without lifting his eyes from his comic.
"Oh, well, I'm going to be published in ***."
To my surprise, he jumped up and threw his arms around me.
"Well DONE, Mum! That's great!"
"And The Husband has finsihed uni."
"WOW!" He turned to The Husband, who lifted his arm for a high five. F leaned past his outstretched hand to envelop him in a long hug. "That's brilliant."
He sat back on the couch and picked up his comic again. "And I have a guitar concert, too."
"Yes, that's right. Excellent."
We told F he could bring three comics if he promised he would talk to us over dinner.
"Of COURSE I will."
At the pub, The Husband and I chatted wearily about our respective days under a sepia frieze of nineteenth-century Ireland, while Today Tonight flickered on a suspended television overhead. (This was the setting of the dining room, the classy double-cost area of the pub. No seats left in the front bar.)
F sat, head down, absorbed in his comic. We tried to draw him out, to no avail.
"You promised to talk to us," I reminded him. Heavy sigh. Eyes flicker up and back again.
I swept the comic from under him and put it on the chair. He glared at us.
"When you go out for dinner, you need to talk to the people you go with. If I go out for dinner with my friends, I can't just sit there and read a book. I have to talk to them."
"FINE. What do you want to TALK about?"
"I don't know."
We all sat in silence a moment. Then, for lack of imagination, we grilled him about school and friends. It had been a week since we last saw him. The social landscape had, as we suspected, shifted a little. One friend has disappeared; a longstanding enemy has become a friend.
"REALLY?" We were hooked. (At least, I know I was.) "What HAPPENED?"
"Well, I don't know. He's just nice now. We play footy together. The only thing that's still annoying is that during tests, he always asks for the answers. I'm one of three people he always asks for the answers."
"Is he at your table?"
"Are the others he asks for answers?"
"One of them. The other one, he gets up and goes over to his table and asks for the answers."
"During the test?"
The food arrived. F stabbed into his chicken nuggets hungrily.
"They look good," said The Husband. The chicken parma on his plate did not look good. It looked slightly shrivelled. And soggy.
F chews thoughtfully.
"I thought you liked them last time?"
"Last time, yes. They must have a new chef. This one sucks."
F has never not liked chicken nuggets.
"And the chips, are they good?"
"No." He gives a thumbs down.
"Can I try one?
They must be bad, I thought. He never lets me try one, not without stern warnings and carefully picking the chip himself. I bit into one and put it back on the plate.
"Yeah, they're bad," I winced. "They're COLD." And chalky, as if they've been microwaved rather than oven-fried.
"And GREASY. It's all very GREASY."
"So, F, pretend you're Gordon Ramsay. What would you say about the food?"
"Right. Well, what would you do to make it better? What would be your advice?"
He considered a moment, then looked up from his plate, where he was swirling wilted chips in sauce.
"Get a new chef."