He's suited, he's booted, and he's heading out for the evening...
You wouldn't think it was an hour past his bedtime.
That was Toby at 8pm on Monday, still on a high after a night out on the tiles. Not only was he full of beans, he was full of chips, fish fingers and chocolate ice cream.
Yesterday was my niece's 15th birthday, and to my slight (if not great) surprise, I had a text message early on Monday morning from my brother, asking if we were free to celebrate the occasion with an impromptu family meal out that evening. Luckily, I have the social diary of an agoraphobic, and haven't been otherwise engaged since September 2010, so the only thing I needed to establish was who was paying, and having confirmed that it wasn't me, I said a resounding yes. I even decided to invite Lisa.
I was in Horsham all day, and Amelie was in Grease, but having rounded up my family from the four corners of western Europe, we headed down to the marina after work, where we met my brother's family and a couple of hangers-on, in the form of my Mum and Dad. I'd come straight from work, Amelie had come straight from the 1950s, and Lisa had come across a smart linen jacket in a bag of old toddler clothes we'd been given by Lorraine on Sunday. So with Toby looking more sophisticated than the rest of us put together, we hit the city's fine dining establishments, and were soon pulling up a high chair in Frankie & Benny's.
Obviously it's wise to book ahead, otherwise you might find that they can't accommodate your party of nine, and will have to seat you in two booths, either side of the gangway, but if that does happen, there's every chance you won't have to sit with your daughter, which can only be a good thing. Personally I was in the mature (some would say aged) booth with my parents and Lisa, where it was left to me and Toby to bring down both the average age and the standard of table manners.
The meal itself was very nice, and featured a surprise rendition of Happy Birthday, which was played to my niece over the restaurant's loudspeaker system, accompanied by a few party poppers and a free scoop of ice cream with a candle. Unfortunately Lisa had taken Amelie to the toilet at the time, so they missed the whole thing. They returned two minutes later, and wondered why Toby had bits of streamer in his hair. I told them he'd shredded a napkin.
Toby was in his element, and spent most of the evening putting his hands in the air and shouting "NEED!!!" every time the waitress walked past with a tray of food. It's something he's learnt from me. As for Amelie, she cleared her plate like a true Gardner, and then grassed me up to Lisa when I ate some of Toby's chips.
Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all, as was a lot of good food. I didn't see much of my niece, but she's fifteen, so she was on her smartphone quite a lot, and I doubt she'd have wanted to talk to an old loser like her lame Uncle Foul. Although she hasn't called me that since she was four...
...teen, so I probably seem a lot cooler now.