Yesterday we got caught up in a thoroughly nasty incident that left me shaking and crying. Today I’m shaking again as I write this. I’m only writing this because I think I need to set down my side of the story as others have taken to the social networks to make some rather serious allegations. But as I’ve always said there are always two sides to any story. It’s often been my job to put that other side but I will stand up for myself just as I would stand up for anyone else.
Yesterday was a lovely sunny day. We’d gone into town to find outfits for a friend’s wedding. After a long afternoon traipsing around we’d decided to stop off for a quiet coffee. We went, as we often have done in the past to Foam Cafe and Gallery on Great Strand Street in the centre of town.
It was busy, unsurprising for a Saturday afternoon, but we found a table at the top of the stairs. Two small children had been playing there and ran off as we sat down. We waited to be served and the two little girls came back, playing just behind us, glancing at the space they had previously taken claim of and repeatedly banging into my husband’s chair. We ignored them as best we could but they were a rather distracting presence running up and down the stairs beside us and pulling at the Christmas tree placed rather idiosyncratically in the corner.
The waitress came to take our order. She had obviously been dealing with a difficult customer as one of her colleagues came up to her while she was talking to us and massaged her shoulders, saying something quietly to her as they both looked towards the seating area beyond us. One of the children came running back up the stairs and pushed past her rudely. We commented on the unruly behaviour and she said it was quite normal there – there had been one occasion recently when she had been serving someone downstairs and a tree bauble had gone flying past her. Children were taking them off the Christmas tree and throwing them down the stairs. We joked about modern parenting and she took our order.
When she’d gone downstairs the two little girls came back and once again kept banging into the husband’s chair. He turned round and told them firmly “go away”. They went.
That’s when things started to ramp up.
A woman, who I presume was the girls’ mother went past with the two girls and another, slightly older one. She walked down the stairs staring at us. It was a little hard to ignore but we kept chatting. She came back up and went back to her seat.
A few minutes later she was back and stopped on the stairs level with our table. She turned on my husband, telling him he shouldn’t talk to children like that. I can only assume the girls had embellished what was said to them. Small children aren’t always utter paragons of virtue after all. He said he’d only told them to go away. I told her she should be taking care of her own children and keeping them under control. She looked me up and down and very pointed asked me if I had children myself. When I asked what that had to do with anything, she smirked and said I wouldn’t understand.
Now I’ve written here before about the fact that I am not childless by design. It’s not something I like talking about. It was a very traumatic period in our lives and one that we have made peace with but when another woman tells me I’m incapable of understanding something because I haven’t been pregnant, haven’t given birth and haven’t let my children run riot in a cafe I take exception to it. I was upset and angry.
I told her she was a rude woman and her children were rude and badly behaved little brats. She told me that I shouldn’t “come over here” with that kind of attitude. I was already upset. Picking on my nationality was just nasty. At that point my husband, having asked her twice before to leave us alone, told her to fuck off and go away.
Our voices were raised. We were both upset and defensive. My husband went downstairs and came back with the waitress. She said “I can’t do anything about that”. She tried to defuse the situation. The woman went down the stairs. The eldest of the three children lingered a little and grinned at my husband, saying “you said a bad word”. He replied “your mummy is a very rude woman”.
I was shaking and tearful but we tried to put it behind us and get on with our coffees. That’s all we had wanted after all.
After perhaps ten minutes a bald man came up the stairs two at a time and ordered us off the premises. He said he was the owner and that we had been abusive to his customers and his staff. He said he would not have swearing in his cafe. He didn’t ask what the problem was. He wouldn’t listen to our side of the story. He threatened to call the gardai.
Everyone in the cafe was looking at us. He stood at the cash desk on the phone. My husband went down ahead. I was still at the table gathering my stuff. I was shaking and crying. A very nice woman came over and asked me what had happened. I told her what the other woman had said. She sympathised.
I went downstairs. Everyone was staring. The staff were all standing around and none of them would catch my eye. The owner followed us out onto the street still refusing to listen to me as I tried to explain what had happened. He went to push between us to go back into the cafe. My husband put his arm out to stop him. The owner turned to me and said, “there, your husband pushed me”, marched back into the place and closed the door on us.
I don’t like airing dirty linen in public. I feel sick writing this but I really feel I should put down exactly what happened. Just in case.
I only found out today that the man who identified himself as the owner of Foam was none other than struck-off solicitor Thomas Byrne.
This afternoon I have received several messages on Twitter defending the cafe and calling our behaviour into question. That is the only reason I’m writing this. I want a public record. I’ve tried to put things down as coolly and rationally and completely as I can. This was a truly horrible experience but it doesn’t seem to be over yet. I can’t quite shake the feeling I’ve walked into some undiscovered Kafka play.