Avoid the pressure cooker of family teatime; head for the coffee table

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Back in the day, we didn’t know there was another way to have tea. Every night, we all sat at exactly the same place at the round dining table that was mum’s pride and joy.

The chairs were leatherette-topped three-legged things and they slotted neatly under the table like a Trivial pursuit cheese. The wipe-clean wood-print melamine top was always set with a plate of bread and butter (ready-sliced from the Fletchers van until mum realised it was cheaper at the supermarket) and cups and saucers by every place setting.

The meal was always home-cooked, filling stuff like potatoes and veg with meat pie, stew and dumplings, shepherd’s pie on a Monday if we’d had lamb for Sunday dinner (which was always eaten at lunchtime because Sunday tea was pilchard salad and pikelets). Puddings? Angel Delight and fruit salad with that canned cream you shook to thickness.

To the modern family, it must all sound so Sixties-idyllic. The thriftiness, the togetherness; the family unit breaking white-sliced together. But I do remember a few humdingers. Mum hot and bothered. Vexed people jumping to their feet, sending three-legged chairs flying (massive design fault). Me sneaking a teaspoon of salt into the milk in mum’s teacup because she’d put kidney in the casserole.

We found out how the laid-back other half lived when mum left to move in with a new love (fret not, we forgave and forgot). We threw routine to the four winds. Dad tried too hard in the kitchen, making weird gravy with WINE in it and peas with spring onions in while we set places on the coffee table in front of the telly. We bought mugs. We drank pop in the middle of a meal. After years of having to sit and make conversation we could ignore each other and gawp at Crossroads. Apart from the food, It was great.

We still ate everything put in front of us (including all the weird stuff). We still liked each other. But it was all less stressy.

UK parents are now becoming more laissez faire at mealtimes, says a report; they no longer insist kids eat every scrap and fret about the risk of scurvy and bowel cancer because on Tuesdays they only get four-a-day.

Now if that’s you, don’t listen if the food police frown upon you. Listen to me, the product of a broken home. A more relaxed environment has got to be better for you all than a diet rich in stress. And who knows; maybe mum might not have left if family teatime had been a casual coffee table affair.