Last month would have been my mum’s 92nd birthday, which gives me an excuse to write a blog about her.
I think men and women of a certain age would find similarities with their own mothers; I have at least a couple of friends whose mothers shared a lot of the principles and beliefs of my own mum. Hence this guide to mums involves a couple of generations of what would have been regarded as ‘older mums,’ their children being born in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Which means I’m probably talking for a lot of Deborahs, Karens, Sharons, Traceys, Susans, Peters, Pauls, Richards, Neils and Kevins out there.
I won’t manage to cover all subject areas, just the more important ones that highlight the philosophies and reasoning of my mum.
As a young child, the photographs seem to show me dressed most of the time in what would be described as ‘smart casual,’ for example, a white shirt with a tie on a bit of elastic with a woollen v- neck jumper. Even in July. Shorts would be introduced at the end of March, whatever the weather.
On holiday, my cousins and I would wear swimming trunks made out of some strange material, a combination of wool, canvas, nylon and asbestos. Once wet, these odd items of apparel would hang down just below the knee. There is an old black and white photo of my cousin and I sitting on a rock wearing these trunks. I think we were trying to get back to our parents, but the weight of our swimming kaks had exhausted us.
Mums always wore blouses, were regularly busty and wore skirts that covered their nylon clad knees and had a waistband just below the bosom. I’m convinced that Simon Cowell is trying to introduce the male version of this.
Manners were paramount. Always say please and thank you. Never be rude to a grown up, however awful they may be to you. Try not to speak to grown-ups unless they speak to you. Always say sorry, all the time. At the dining table, it was very important not to put your elbows on said table and you must always lean over your plate. Failure to do so would often result in a sharp clip to the back of the head. I know. I still have the fork scars in the roof of my mouth.
Similarly, as a child, my sister and I were encouraged to walk with a straight back, often achieved with mum jabbing a firm finger in the centre of your spine. It worked. These days I walk very upright, so that the middle aged tummy I’m constantly battling against sticks out proudly in front of me.
although clever enough to be a grammar school pupil, had left school at 14. She saw education as a very important thing. I remember the advice she gave me just before I was about to take my ‘O’ level exams. She sat me down at the kitchen table and looked into my eyes.
“Don’t worry,” she said earnestly, “just do your best. Don’t panic! These exams will decide what you do for the rest of your life, but you’ll be o.k. Just… don’t panic. Stay calm. Well, if you fail, but you won’t fail, don’t fret. It may mean you’ll never make anything of yourself, but you’ll be fine. Your father would forgive you. Eventually. Anyway, I hope this helps you not to worry too much.”
Sex Education and Relationships
Talk of sex was a straightforward subject. It’s dirty.
It was something that was never discussed, or, if it was, was discussed in a cryptic way. Like the story of a former neighbour, for instance.
“She was always with different men. She used to bring them home and entertain them on her front room rug.”
Images of a seductively dressed woman doing card tricks or reciting a poem stayed with me for years.
I think my mum took baths in her slip. I cannot remember a time when I saw her completely undressed. I’m not sure my father ever saw her completely naked.
Mum’s attitude to sex is perfectly illustrated when she voiced her concerns for my Auntie Bella, her sister.
“You know, poor Bella had no rest when she was on her holidays with your Uncle Bill. He insisted on having (look both ways, mouth the word ‘sex’) with her nearly every night. I mean, she was on holiday, for goodness’ sake. She wanted a rest, not all that old palaver!”
My early relationships with girls were never really helped by my mum, even though she tried. My first date was a good example of this (see the blogs Mummy Knows Best). On one occasion, as I walked home from school with Mandy, I had the impression that I might be lucky enough to get to take her out. The Debbie debacle had been over a year ago. As we stood outside the newsagents, me trying to show Mandy how mature and cool I was, with some success it must be said, I saw my mum on her way home from work walking towards us. Too late. She’d spotted us.
“Oo ee! Oh, hello, you’re Amanda aren’t you? Eileen’s girl?” my mum said, looking Mandy up and down.
“Erm… yes,” said Mandy, looking a little coy. Mum fished her purse out of her handbag.
She handed me 50p.
“Go on, Robert, go and get an ice cream for Mandy. Or would you like some sweets?”
Like a slug under a pile of salt, I could have shrivelled up and died.
Mums (1920-1935) had an effective form of disciplining their children, mainly through physical correction. These days, these methods are generally known as assault and battery.
Mums called it a ‘clip round the ear,’ ‘a clump’ or ‘a bloody good hiding.’
There was only one answer to all requests and that was yes. The opposite of yes was nnnnn…, because that is as far as you would get before receiving a blow to the back of the head/legs. If this particular form of persuasion to see the error of your ways didn’t seem to work, there was always the laundry stick, a length of beech wood used for stirring the laundry in the machine (yes kids, that’s what you used to do!)
“Ooo, I never hit my children,” she would proclaim when she was older. Janet (my sister) and I would exchange knowing glances. If this was the case, I can only assume mum had an identical evil twin with a penchant for beating defiant children whilst she was out.
My mum had lots of different diagnoses for particular ailments. If you were itchy or tired, your blood was too hot. Butter helped to ‘grease your lungs.’ Lemonade helped a headache.
My mum always advocated cleaning your teeth with warm water, the logic being that washing was more effective with hot rather than cold water. Much to Lady Barton St Mary’s disdain, I still do, even though I know the water isn’t fresh.
If you ever had a cut or wound that turned septic, mum would treat it with something known as a kaolin poultice, a type of clay that one heated up and applied directly to the injury to draw out the infection. My mum had asbestos hands, like most others at the time. She would boil up the poultice in a big saucepan, lift it directly from the bubbling water and slap it onto the affected area of your body. The initial effect was akin to having molten lava applied to your skin.
“Don’t make a fuss,” she used to say, trying to make herself heard over your screams.
Mums (1920-1935) also believed the best cure for mouth ulcers was table salt, which she would apply liberally. Those of you who haven’t experienced this particular healing process, try it out. Oh, and you’re not allowed to lick it off. The pulsating throb of pain is exquisite.
Finally, modern parents, a tip. Do you find those long car journeys a bit too much for your little ones? Would you like some advice from the mum’s (1920-1935) manual on how to cope with this? Easy. Just go to your GP and get him to prescribe you with Phenergan. Just before said car journey, pop a couple of these little blue pills in your precious children’s mouths. They’ll consequently be unconscious for the next five hours. It worked every time on me. The experience of going on holiday in the car was not dissimilar to being kidnapped; I’d be drugged, bustled into the car and would wake up hours later in a place I’d never seen before.
This is, perhaps, the most important feature for all mums (1920-1935).
Good, honest food and lots of it. Woe betides you if you left any. As you grew older, the more you were expected to eat. Refusing food was not an option.
Two incidents spring to mind where food was concerned. My friend The Sexton stayed overnight at my mum’s house once. Carelessly, I mentioned he had a mother (1920-1935) who cooked large meals and The Sexton had a large appetite. Mum rubbed her hands together in anticipation. I’d sealed his fate.
For breakfast, she cooked him 4 fried eggs, a whole pack of bacon, a tin of baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, fried potatoes and fried bread. The Sexton bravely, nay, confidently ate everything on his plate, so mum started plying him with toast, round after round. Being polite, he kept eating, until he started to resemble a human letter box as my mum posted slice after slice into his mouth. After two loaves of bread he surrendered and mum was a happy woman.
The other involved Master Johnny, aged 4, left on an overnight stay with my mum and dad.
The following morning, mum informed us that poor little Johnny had been unwell the night before.
“I think he was a little over-excited,” she explained.
Yes, over excited and fed on eggs, beans, chips, a bottle of lemonade and two family sized bags of Haribo sweets, probably beyond the capacity of a 4 year old who was never given a lot of sweets at home and whose staple diet was rice cakes and humus.
Which leads us neatly to…
Mums (1920-1935) have a completely different attitude to grandchildren. They do no wrong. They are fabulous, they can have anything they want. When they’re cheeky, they’re just being funny. When they have a tantrum, it’s the parents’ fault.
In short, they are spoilt rotten, but this is always denied. It’s only other people’s grandchildren that are spoilt. Hence, grandchildren have no hang ups, are ultra- confident and are treated so leniently it could be regarded as neglect.
“I never treated you any differently,” mum used to lie.
Mum sayings (a sample)
He’s as silly as armoles.
Black as Newgate’s Knocker.
What a jawmedead (somebody who talks a lot).
BOO BOO! (Loud , friendly greeting used exclusively for small babies to put them at ease, generally resulting in them being scared shitless).
He worked like a Trojan.
It’s a bit far-fetched. (Referring to films such as Star Wars, Superman, Batman, etc).
As mum got older, she became more mischievous, less formal and more flatulent, but this meant she was still able to pull a family together during a time of great sadness and strife. My mum was there for my sister, 20 year old niece and 13 year old nephew when her husband, their father, left them. Mum knew that the best remedy would be a big roast dinner. As we all sat around the table, downcast and silent, mum proudly bent down to produce the roast beef from the oven. She also produced the loudest fart you have ever heard in your life. Everybody stared at her with wide eyes, hardly daring to believe what they had just heard. Mum continued as if nothing had happened, whilst the rest of us collapsed in tears of laughter.
She turned around and looked at us.
“Oh you’ve cheered up all of a sudden,” she laughed, making me think that in addition to losing her hearing, she’d also lost her sense of smell.
Games were always fun, too. She would have nothing to do with Monopoly, which she insisted on calling ‘Monotony.’ But she was keen on card games like whist and gin rummy.
She would also join in family team games of Trivial Pursuit. I particularly remember one game when she insisted the first man in space was Yuri Geller.
In later years, she became a rather accomplished whisky drinker, graduating to whisky macs. Keeping pace with her usually meant a long night and a challenging hangover.
She was also responsible for encouraging my Deal or No Deal obsession. We spent some great times together trying to double guess contestants and predicting the banker’s offers.
I could go on and on, but if you are called Deborah, Karen, Sharon, Tracey, Susan, Peter, Paul, Richard, Neil or Kevin, you already know.
Even if you aren’t called this, one thing’s for sure. You’ll only ever have one mum, so make the most of them. Tell them jokes and tease them, be grateful for the nuts and cheesy balls they buy you and the Dundee cakes and jam tarts they make for you. Whatever age range model of mum you own, tell them you love them. Because they won’t be around forever.