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Off The Menu

April 26, 2017

I’ve been eating in Poppiandys in Uxbridge since the early 1970s. It used to be called just Poppins but about 15 years ago, someone decided it could do with an Italian sounding makeover. It’s the last of a dying breed. The sort of eatery my Auntie Rose would have heartily approved of – a place where you could have a “nice sit down with a pot of tea and a toasted teacake”. Uxbridge has got plenty of coffee shops but they’re not the same. Auntie Rose would have been confused by the eclectic clientele and the array of coffees. And not for her, a McDonalds or a Pizza Hut. Eating out demanded that your food be served on a plate with cutlery. And she could never pronounce “pizza”, referring to the dish like the famous leaning tower.

Poppins has been a backdrop to my life. In the early days, it was a treat with my mum after a green line bus ride from Southall to Uxbridge. At the end of the 70s it was one of our Mod hangouts – a place to be seen rather than to eat. I could make a banana longboat last an hour as I constantly checked in the mirror tiles how sharp I looked in my two tone suit. In the early 90s it was the start of the journey my wife and I would take up to the Royal Free hospital for IVF treatment. We’d pop into Poppins for a breakfast before the stressful day ahead. In more recent times, I would go there for my tea on a Tuesday between the 10am to 8pm shift I did at the counselling charity. I was in there just two weeks ago having a Knickerbocker Glory whilst waiting for the watch repair shop to open.

Sadly, no more. Last week, the mum of one of Steven’s Mencap pool friends posted on Facebook the humiliating story of how her daughter was asked to leave the cafe. She can be a bit of a noisy, messy eater and it seems like other customers complained. The manager told her support workers to leave and not to bring her back again. The Facebook thread attracted many comments and I was shocked how common an experience this was. Another parent told exactly the same story. A classroom assistant told how three of her pupils had been banned. By the end of the thread, one was left with a nasty taste in one’s mouth. A place I’ve known and loved for almost 50 years was no longer the same. The strawberry tarts had become tarnished.

In the thread, people were suggesting having a quiet word with the manager. “He needs educating”. Of course he does and a quiet word may be appropriate. But the damage has been done by then. And even if the manager has a Damascus moment, would you really want to go back?

I think of the places where Steven has been banned over the years: Virgin Active, the observation tower at Heathrow, the kid’s club at the caravan park in Clacton. Each time, someone in charge has interpreted Steven’s noisy enjoyment as a discomfort for other people. Other’s enjoyment is being spoiled by Steven’s joy. And there really is no answer to it. Education? That only might work if the person is open to being educated. But by that time, they are feeling defensive because you are calling out the king has got no clothes on, so “lessons being learned” becomes unlikely. My response in these situations is pretty crap. I try to give an “am I bovvered” impression whilst holding the moral high ground. It never works and my embarrassment becomes as acute as the person giving out the ban.

I might have popped into Poppins later. I’ve got some errands to do and a Range Choice would have rounded off my excursion nicely. Instead I’ll get a bus going in the opposite direction and go to The Griddle Diner instead. It hasn’t got the personal history but it has got five choices of breakfast. And it’s never too late to start a new history.

Because when you’re not welcome, you’re not welcome. I might be but Steven probably wouldn’t be. And that means I’m not either.

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7 Comments
  1. Wow. I loved reading this, laughing and crying at the same time!
    Thankyou, Mark.

    We haven’t been banned anywhere yet, and I’d be mortified if it happened, but like you I’d not go there again.
    No food is as good as home made, and picnics right now are a great idea..
    I’d also love to witness a Damascus moment. Once in a queue in Waitrose a couple thought my son was rude because he didn’t answer a question (as I’d popped to get something quick, but not quick enough). Once realising he couldn’t understand them, they were almost in tears – the kindest people on Earth.

  2. I had a cup of coffee in an M&S cafe yesterday while one of the worker there complained loudly to other customers about messy children as she cleaned the table and swept the floor after them. It was clear that children like that were not welcome. I didn’t see the family concerned but it could have been my kids when younger , except that I would probably not have dared take them there in the first place. I still got the message loud and clear: neuro-diverse children not welcome. Noise, mess and excess movement are the result of badly behaved children and poor parenting. It still hurts.

  3. jennywalkabout permalink

    Sad story for this day and age Mark. Jaunts out for morning coffe / lunch / afternoon tea were a very important part of the weekly routine for my class 12 years ago. Fortunately we always encountered friendly staff and members of the public. Our locations varied from supermarket cafes, garden centres, local tea rooms and coffee shops to smarter places like The Swan Hotel in Lavenham! Silver tea service and lace tablecloths – they enjoyed that so much we had an action replay in class!

  4. Jennywalkabout, our lovely classroom assistant told me, after years of it happening, that people had stared horribly at my son’s class while out, as some made loud sounds. It wasn’t a good area to walk in, so I’d have been more choosy. I went to safer places.
    We stayed in 4 star hotels in London and Paris twice a year and never had a problem, as my son loves these.
    He loved nice clothes as much as any teenager, and Lorna Wing wrote that dressing children with autism smartly is too important as people are more sympathetic.
    We went to Disney on Ice every year, and normal kids were often banging our chairs from behind or rushing about, which is normal (and irritating), but my son would give me a half smile as he waited for them to settle. He was the one with severe autism..
    Once he ran around the cinema at age 7 while the film was on, because he wanted to play a game of chase. The audience laughed as he was very giggly, and a man helped as I ran after him. It seems funny now. I loved those days.

  5. Karen permalink

    Did you read the cafe owners comment on their website Mark? http://www.popiandys.com/An open statement to ALL our customers…
    “At our former home in Watford we won a coveted award for disabled access and the service we provided, beating all restaurants and shops in the town. In Uxbridge we have spent the last 15 years building up a reputation for great customer service and have recently moved to a new home where we have improved our facilities. We have HUNDREDS of happy disabled customers visiting us every week without any problems.
    Unfortunately, over the last few months there have been three isolated situations in which we felt we needed to act.
    The first involved an incident when a customer started punching out at other customers and our staff. This was unacceptable despite this person’s disability and we asked his carer to escort this person off the premises.
    The second incident involved a young man who was being noisy and disruptive, banging his hands on the table, throwing his hands out, trying to grab the waitress and almost throwing himself out of his wheelchair. Despite this we continued to serve the group he was with as best we could. He then started banging his head on the table and his carer had to physically place herself over the table to protect him from harming himself. It was at this point that the manager felt he had to intervene. He politely and discreetly explained to the carer that he felt the safety of his staff, other members of the public and indeed the safety of the carer and the young man himself was at risk and the party was asked to leave.
    The final and most recent situation involves a young lady. She has visited us regularly and we have always welcomed her and her carers. Due to something connected to her disability, customers appeared to become uncomfortable, including a family with young children who showed some signs of distress and another group who after ordering drinks with the intention of eating, subsequently changed their minds. Again, the manager felt it was in the best interests to ALL his customers and his business to have a conversation with her carer. We wish to make it clear that he DID NOT ask them to leave or ban them from coming back. He merely wished to open a dialog with the carer and make her aware of his concerns in a respectful and professional manner. It is his understanding that the carer was appreciative and sympathetic to his comments and it was a constructive conversation.
    Contrary to some peoples comments we would like to make everyone aware of THE EQUALITY ACT 2010. We would like to point out that the act justifies us to lawfully deny service if we have a good enough reason, for which we had in all three situations. We are 100% confident we have fully complied with the act and have done so appropriately, ethically and professionally.
    More information on the relevant part of the act can be found here:
    https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/…/justifying-discriminat…/
    We understand that carers, friends and family members of the mentioned persons wish to see them fully integrated into the community. In fact that’s the exact same way we feel and that’s why we treat EVERY disabled customer with the utmost respect. However, we would also like to remind everyone that apart from doing what we feel is best for the disabled person, we also have a duty of care to ALL our customers, our staff, and our business.
    We are incredibly grateful to ALL our customers for their continued support and we look forward to welcoming EVERYONE soon.
    Yours sincerely
    The Owners of Popiandy’s”

  6. weary mother permalink

    A general comment not intended to trivialise a very complex and painful issue.

    Am mother of a son with a serious learning disability, and the grandmother of two delightful young men, On occasions when eating out when they were very small, their father took two red faced yelling wriggling boys under his arms, to sit with him in the car. This usually happened post one little boy socking the other over a pinched chip etc. But the damage, noise and upset they could at those times cause, belied their size and age.

    On these occasions my son was just dealing with two very naughty little boys, and acting in consideration of the other people in the restaurant.

    This issue in debate here is a very different one, but it is similar in that it is about how to respect the rights and needs of all. And for a business, it must be a nightmare ?

    For it is also about safeguarding the need and rights of (potentially) stressed hard working individuals, out to enjoy a (potentially rare and financially costly) pleasant family meal. If these families dared to object they too could suffer the additional stress/penalty of being judged as discriminatory or being uncaring.

    It is a very deep conundrum here. And one not easily resolved in the interest of the needs and rights of ……all ?

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