Making the most of maternity leave

The Robert Pocock, Gravesend

Friday 11 December 2015

Scurries of icy rain blast my cheeks as I step off the high speed train from St Pancras at Gravesend. A snatched afternoon off work to visit a friend on maternity leave.

Scurries of icy rain blast my cheeks as I step off the high speed train from St Pancras at Gravesend. A snatched afternoon off work to visit a friend on maternity leave. I join a handful of huddled passengers trudging bent against the wind to arrive at our meeting place, the town square. The strains of tinny Christmas songs gasp out of inadequate speakers, as teachers in padded anoraks and jingling reindeer antlers shepherd children into the barricaded square for some kind of Christmas fair. Security guards search the children’s backpacks.

Grateful to leave, we stroll around historic Gravesend and stand on the edge of the pier. Watching the ferry leave for Tilbury we talk about a late lunch while watching the grey water meet the grey sky across the flat, marshy expanse. Daring to hope, I mention the Spoons I’d spotted next to WH Smith on the High Street. My suggestion is met with an incredulous “are you serious? glance”. Never more so. We first try the recommended places – the Italian cafe is closed, the Indian street food restaurant booked for an office Christmas party.

Smiling my glee, we head Spoons-side. The eponymous Robert Pocock brought the printing press to Gravesend in 1786, and opened a library in the back of his shop, where he published illustrated children’s books. With my friend and her 1yo daughter, I realise the other boon of a Spoons – they’re child friendly.

The Robert Pocock has a big front space – presumably once housing the old printing room and shop. We descend to the former library at the back. A big Christmas tree sparkles in the corner and a sweeping flight of carpeted stairs with wooden balustrades leads to a galleried upper floor. Despite these architectural features, the atmosphere suggests a functional, average Spoons.

We order 2 mini bottles of Prosecco, and pocketing a fair amount of change from her tenner, I can tell my friend has crossed over to the Spoons cause. Never needing to use one before, I now see there’s a dedicated children’s menu. It’s slightly disappointing, although perhaps inevitable, to see that cheap kids’ food prevails: fish fingers, chips and beans, and variations thereof. We order a ham and cheese toastie from the standard menu for our tiny companion, currently climbing with remarkable agility out of her Wetherspoons wooden high chair.

Our food arrives quickly. I’ve ordered what has become my staple – the smoked salmon, cream cheese and rocket bagel. It’s one of the more nutritious, healthier options, and works for any time of day.  However the bagel itself is thin and cheap, and the slice of smoked salmon it contains is ungenerous. I finish the rejected 2/3 of the toastie, pushing aside any qualms about taking a toastie from a baby. My friend tucks into her scampi, still high on the price of the second round of Prosecco.

Mid-quaff, I spot that we have attracted the wrong sort of attention from the gaggle of retired women behind us. Uniform in white permed hair and clutching halves of lager, they’re muttering as my friend and I, glasses aloft, stroll around after our crawling companion. Perhaps this isn’t what their maternity leave looked like. The old men in flat caps are more tolerant – making faces at the baby and remarking on her outfit. However, after an hour, she’s had enough of the infamous Spoons carpet, and, draining our glasses, we beat a hasty retreat out the back exit to the soundtrack of her screams.

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