Monday, 13 June 2011

On childhood

I’m pretty sure that eternal youth is entirely dependent on keeping an eye on your fish finger consumption. An occasional meal of fish fingers, oven chips (or potato waffles) and baked beans (or spaghetti hoops) will keep you young mentally, if not physically so. And though it may not cure me of wanting a place to sit down when I go out, and wanting  people to shut up during gigs, it will make sure that I still have occasional enjoyment of toilet humour and barely containable glee at finding Hello Kitty pasta shapes in Sainsbury’s.

It was a memory of my bed time routine when I was younger that made me think of getting older (again). Before even the days of Supernanny, a regular bedtime routine got us all up and off to bed with (from my memory anyway) with a minimum of fuss, including the Night-Night Drink. I still have to take a drink up with me at bedtime and recently started to think of it as a Night-Night drink again and to crave Nesquik (childhood night night drink of choice); obviously work stress is getting to me more than I thought! I was so pleased when I remembered this craving when I was actually in a supermarket and my first drink of that sweet, sweet nectar was last night. It was a mistake to have it at 9pm as I immediately became sleepy and was in bed before 10.

My parents are mental, of course, just like everyone else’s parents. But a lot of their kraziness is good krazy. Well, maybe I should let the therapist figure that one out in a few years’ time.  Anyway, a friend says my mum should release an alternative parenting book, based on two particular incidents, but I’m not sure that would go down very well!

Don’t let the bed bugs bite

Unfortunately, being quite bright, I was easily troubled. There was one occasion for example when I burst into tears at bed time and when, after much consoling, mum prised out of me what was the matter I replied “I.......I don’t .....want a MORTGAGE”. To be so sensitive at aged 7! I never stood a chance with the documentary about microscopic mini beasts that live undercover all around us. Funnily enough it wasn’t the ones that live in your eyelashes that really got to me. Maybe my brain immediately realised that short of pulling all my eyelashes out there was absolutely NOTHING I could do about that. It was the ones that live in soft furnishings that really disturbed me. It was inevitable therefore, that when mum followed the sounds of tears at bedtime up to my room, she found me standing on tip toes in the middle of the room, trying not to touch ANYTHING which might have bugs living in it. 

“What’s the matter?”

“Th-there...there are buh-bugs in my pillow” (quiet sobbing)

“Well don’t lie on your pillow”

“Buh-but they’re in the mattress too” (slightly louder sobbing)

“I'll put another sheet on it”

“Th-they’ll guh-get th-through” (entirely distraught)

“Sleep on the floor then”

“Th-there are buh-bugs in the cur-CARPET” (pretty much hysterical)

“OK then, stand there all night”

And with that she left me to deal with the problem on my own. Quite harsh, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t take more than 15 minutes for my brain to stick infesters of soft furnishing in the same dark corner as the eyelash-bugs so I could climb into bed and go to sleep.

The cabbage lady

There are many threats parents can make when children misbehave and reasons why they are not very effective. Common ones from my childhood were:

“You’ll go to your room” (So what; that’s where all my toys and books are)

“You’ll go to bed with no tea” (Odds are I didn’t like what was for tea anyway – I was a picky child. And see above for the location of my toys and books)

It’s hard to know what to threaten without crossing that tricky line into child abuse. So what next? Use your imagination, parents, and invent a villain so terrifying that your children will cower in obedience at the mention of their name. My mum’s invention: THE CABBAGE LADY.

The threat was “....or I’ll send you to live with the Cabbage Lady”. I wasn’t really concerned with the removal from my family to a strange home; it was all about the cabbage. Mum even used to pick up the phone and pretend to ring her. She's a good actress and I remember genuinely believing mum had her on the phone, hysterically promising to do as I was told and mum 'cancelled' my removal to The Cabbage Lady's House.

From what I can remember, the details about The Cabbage Lady were sparse. I seem only to remember being told that The Cabbage Lady just ate cabbage and would make you eat cabbage too. Fortunately for mum I filled in the details myself, being an imaginative little soul. You entered her house from a side door, straight into the kitchen. The kitchen had green cupboards, and wallpaper with a repeated pattern of cabbages. It was a hot, humid place with a stove full of massive pots containing aggressively boiling cabbage. The Cabbage Lady herself was a homely lady, quite short with a plump rosy face (presumably from being in a kitchen full of cabbage steam) and wore a white apron with pictures of cabbages on it. She had ginger bobbed hair for some reason but this isn’t an anti-ginger statement. As I’ve said before, it wasn’t about her being ginger. It was about the cabbage.  Below is an artist’s impression of her kitchen (note she is portrayed as meaner than she was imagined to be, to convey the terror with which she was regarded):

I am one of the lucky ones in that looking back on my childhood is mostly hilarious.


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