Let’s get one thing straight: there’s no such thing as a holiday once you’ve had kids. You can wave bye-bye to all those long, lazy brunches; and forget reading the papers or lounging around in cafes. Family travel means one thing: demands for 24/7 entertainment, toddler-style.
Or so we thought.
We’ve spent a few days with Milo in Brighton and Hove, running up and down beaches, making sandcastles, finding ‘family friendly’ (how I hate that phrase) attractions. We’re absolutely shattered. And then we get wind of what the locals-with-kids do: they head to St. Ann’s Well Gardens. There, along winding paths and through a play area that somewhat bizarrely includes a life-size jeep on springs, is a café.
And this being Hove (actually), it is no ordinary café. This is a cafe that could have been invented by The Guardian. It’s achingly middle class: fair trade coffee, bagels and brunch; the flutter of broadsheets; lo-fi posters for acoustic sessions adorning the walls; nutritious snacks for kids who long for sweets but have to make do with granola.
I love it. I haven’t been this excited about a place since I discovered that my local newsagent sells more copies of the weekend Guardian than anywhere else in the country.
We head to the back of the café. And this is where it gets really good because here, in a space created by the clever positioning of several squashy sofas, is a children’s play area. Milo sniffs it out immediately; by the time I am settled onto the sofa, he’s deep into the toy box. I look up to mention it to Simon but he’s already deep into the Guardian and I, it appears, am surplus to requirements.
It’s absolutely bloody heaven: for once, both Simon and I are free to drink coffee, eat breakfast and read the papers – all this without a sniff of guilt at not looking after our Precious First Born (as said PFB is happily playing with a few other toddlers and racing a found Thomas the Tank Engine up and down the back of the sofa).
We get a whole hour to ourselves before Milo gets restless and I have to put the paper down and gather up toys, books, camera and clothes. Simon looks up from the sports pages, a startled expression crumpling his face.
‘Do you think we could stay here for the rest of the day?’ he asks.
It’s a fair question. Sadly, with a toddler tugging at our trousers, we both know the answer.
‘But it was good for a while, wasn’t it,’ he says, looking around wistfully.
‘Mummy RUNNING!’ says Milo, and I have no time to reply; the boy is running for the door and then bursts back out into the park beyond. All good things have to come to an end – although if I ever find myself back in Brighton and Hove, I know where I’ll be heading.
Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: Everything on the menu is available as a kid’s portion, plus there are Innocent-type drinks. Buggy-friendly? Yes, though they ask you to leave buggies outside when it’s busy (there’s a covered area outside). Cost: Not so cheap but oh so worth it. Hot meals for kids £3.25; sandwiches from £2.60; salmon and egg bagel, £5.25; Americano £1.50. Worth it? Oh my god, yes. Great park and the only café I’ve ever been in where I’ve been able to leave Milo to safely play without fear of him wandering off/being mowed down by a coffee-wielding adult. The only downside was the park: Milo asked me to carry the life-size jeep-on-springs home and got very upset when I said I couldn’t…