I’m redecorating the kitchen and stuck behind a radiator there’s a scribble or something that might be some sort of childhood graffito. As with many small things, it triggered a memory.
My mother’s approach to child rearing had overtones of a mob boss. Never threaten unless you are prepared to carry out the threat. I took that to heart when I had children, though being a wimpish coward that meant I kept my threats to a minimum. Mum wasn’t cruel and used threats sparingly. When trying to encourage my brother and I in our writing, she bought the biggest sheet of hardboard she could find, painted it black and hung it in our bedroom along side a dish of multi coloured chalks. While my brother, fifteen months older and two centuries more developed than me began translating Biggles from English into hieroglyphs at one end, I drew randomised patterns that looked like ketamine confused isobars. Which was fine until I decided the constraints of the board weren’t for me and continued my cold front onto the white paint of the walls.
Which lead to Barbara’s three stage corrective.
Stage one: explanation.
‘Darling, you mustn’t do that. Please keep to the blackboard.’
I probably complied for a while before the possibility of representing the jet stream causing unseasonal hail over the Azores got the better of me…
Stage Two: recrimination.
‘Darling, I did say you mustn’t do that. Please don’t do it again.’
I was old enough to remember this and I’d probably pushed her buttons before but this time there was an exciting possibility of thunder looming so the chalk took charge.
Stage Three: threat.
‘Geoffrey (no more ‘Darling’, no more Mrs Nice Guy) if I see any chalk on the walks I will make you clean it off with your hands.’
The chalk wandered and mum appeared with a bucket full of cold soapy water. Despite struggles my finger tips were prayed in aide of the necessary cleaning. It didn’t hurt but it did humiliate. Worse though was the second level of threat. ‘I don’t want to take away the blackboard.’
Cunning, you see. I would have mourned its loss, of course but my brother would have done, probably more than me. And he’d done nothing wrong yet might loss access to it because of my inability to stay within the lines. Did she know that if I couldn’t be relied upon to learn from her, I was absolutely certain that I would not risk annoying him. Steel hearted assassins didn’t come more icy than my brother if he felt hard done by. That was something I learnt very early.
Looking back, my mother’s approach was often applied to her marriage. There was more cajoling with my dad but she would resort to similar tactics. Dad didn’t enjoy DIY but occasional he would placate mum after he’d spent too long at the rugby club by offering to do some task. One such was building a cupboard under the stairs to house clutter. She wasn’t asking for anything special and it was within him skill set but having made the promise he failed to deliver. The slippery snake-oilery that he applied to avoid the promised task was formidable and after several weeks he had still not bought the materials.
The Awards night at the rugby club was an alcoholic affair, with an inevitable lock in and a drunken husband crawling home in the wee hours. Even in his cups, dad knew not to make too much noise and wake we boys so he would have let himself in through the back door. done hi best not to disturb the dog and crept, possibly on all fours upstairs to bed.
In my imagination I have him congratulating himself on reaching the bedroom without making too much noise. He even managed to remove his smokey clothes before pullign back the bed clothes and…
‘What the bejeebers…?’
Whereas mum reposed soundly on her side of the bed, on his he found not a brushed cotton covered mattress but several lengths of two by four, some plywood, sandpaper, screws and rawlplugs and other miscellaneous paraphernalia that would be needed for the long promised cupboard.
It worked. but he never promised anything similar again.
Today, I was delighted to read a review of my memoir of mum (dad too) by Diane Peach on her lovely blog, Myths of the Mirror.
To quote from the lovely review…
I highly recommend this book to readers of memoirs who want to laugh, have their hearts warmed, and perhaps shed a tear.