Doing it for the kidults

Did kidult culture spawn kidult restaurants, or was it perhaps the other way round? Certainly, the concentrated ambience of senile juvenescence that saturates establishments such as the Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood and TGI Friday's makes them a suitable vanguard of the kidult revolution. I blame the Sixties. Between the door of TGI Friday's - beside which stood a life-size model of the Iron Man (although, on reflection, is it possible for a fictional superhero to be "life-size"?) - and our table, the waiting captain challenged us with the phrase "All right, guys?" no fewer than four times, as if we were being subjected to a kidult interrogation.

Being a kidult myself, I didn't mind, but Luther, who's nine years old and a bona fide child, was - in his own words - "weirded out". And when another servitor leapt out at him and barked, "What's up, boss!?" he almost burst into tears. In fact, our entire trip to Friday's was in this Vice Versa spirit, with the kid hating every minute and the adult, if not exactly cherishing the experience, prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.

We were seated between a quartet of Japanese tourists who proceeded to haggle relentlessly over their bill and a Middle Eastern family consisting of black-bagged mum and a dad who footled with his 3G phone. Coyly, Friday's avers that the "G" in "TGI" stands for "goodness", but looking around at the multi-faith clientele babbling under a cloud of hickory-flavoured barbecue sauce, I was certain it could represent either a monotheistic "God" or the entire polymorphously perverse Hindu pantheon.

American nightmare

The decor at TGI is actually a pantheon of Americana - the aforementioned Iron Man, an ET, a drum kit, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and so on. "One of the things that's annoying me," Luther observed tartly, "is that it's super-American." Then he ordered a jumbo hot dog from the kids' menu. For the duration of our meal, a succession of pop songs percolated through the gloom - you know the ones: Motown stompers, the Small Faces, the Kinks, even Iggy Pop's “The Passenger". None of them was intrinsically bad, but they all suffered by association.

I toyed with requesting one of the special house burgers, but while not going so far as one of my friends who observed, of an anorexic family member, "For her, food is essentially pre-shit," I can't say the idea of seven ounces of beef slathered with guacamole filled me with anything but thoughts of coprophilia. So I settled for the Caesar salad and a side order of shrimps done in the Friday's signature Jack Daniel's marinade. Indeed, were it not for Luther's gloom, I might have fallen further off the wagon than this and abandoned a decade's sobriety by ordering one of the "Whiskey Wonders" - possibly a Godfather, which is glossed as: "A simple combination of Scotch and Luxardo amaretto that's as classic as its movie namesake."

The previous evening I'd had dinner with my nephew, who told me that his girlfriend was constitutionally unable to vomit. I think I'd found a cure. Friday's prides itself on its cocktails: there are pages of such nauseating descriptions, and, as I leafed through them, it occurred to me that really these are the alcopops of a pseudo-sophistication, and that when all's said and puked, there's no fundamental distinction to be made between James Bond's ultra-dry Martini and Vicky Pollard's Bacardi Breezer.

No kidding

Luther pronounced his jumbo hot dog to be "very jumbo", which I think was a compliment. My Caesar salad was bone-cold strips of chicken laid out on a pallet of limp lettuce and hideous croutons. But then, is there anything more hideously inutile than a crouton in this whole wide world? The big surprise was the shrimps - which were surprisingly tasty; I wolfed them down.

All in all, I hadn't minded TGI Friday's nearly as much as I thought I would. It may have been the presence of my depressed nine-year-old, or it could be that I sensed that this was the beginning of the end for kidult dining - after all, with a rapidly declining birth rate, this curious inversion of mores may be about to implode. In the future, with an enormous ageing population, children's birthday parties will probably take place in establishments like the Palm Court at the Ritz, with string quartets instead of guitar bands. One can only hope.

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.