Not angels, but Anglicans
When the day starts off with one of the kitchen drawers tearing a chunk out of one of your fingers, then you know that things can only get worse (I have the pain threshold of a premiership footballer). So it was no surprise when Sunday evening turned into such an auditory nightmare that neighbours in flats across the road, the alley and all over my own building were hanging over their balconies beaming down disapproval. Kids, you see. Small ones, allowed to stay up very late by their parents and consequently, over-excited and over-tired, squealing like a posse of stuck pigs. Such is the acoustic around here – tall buildings, narrow streets – that sounds travel far, reverberating all over our portion of the quartier.
There we were, most of us middle-aged or elderly, all shaking our heads and wondering at the world’s capacity for Getting Worse. I mean, things were not like that in my day. We children knew our place. Oh, yes!
Teleport ourselves back a couple of decades. OK, more than a couple of decades: you’re counting? Stop! And lo, here we are chez Min-as-ickle-pritty, with siblings and dear Mama. Ours, I should explain for those who are new to this blog, was a medical household – and, yes, that is relevant.
We little ones are in the living room, grouped together on a sofa. Mother faces us looking stern. What have we done? Well, certain medicines due to their nature had to be kept in the fridge. And occasionally we … you guessed. So you may now visualise us, pale and enervated, as quiet and as good can be (comparatively speaking, our normal benchmark being a band of berserkers).
Mrs Greene, one of Mother’s chums, arrives: she has left something behind after rescuing her offspring from our clutches the previous day. She seats herself comfortably in an armchair with a sigh of relief as Mother does the gracious host number at which she excels.
Mrs Greene surveys us with approval. We sprogs try smiling at Mrs Greene, but the effort is too much and we remain collapsed against the cushions.
Mother places her tray on the coffee table and resumes her seat.
“Such dear children,” observes Mrs Greene wistfully, “ so well-behaved.”
Mother raises an eyebrow and passes her friend a triple gin-and-French (with lemon).
“My mob?” snorts our female parent, who is honest to a fault at all times. “Well-behaved? That’ll be the Diamorphine the little buggers helped themselves to earlier.”
Mrs Greene gawps, speechless.
“Yes,” continues Mother in her inimitably robust manner, “although you should have seen what they were like after they gobbled up all the Polio vaccine!” She pauses for a moment’s reflection, tapping ash from her ciggy into a Wedgwood ashtray before concluding “or perhaps not … on second thoughts, definitely not!”
The adults laugh. We sit there, numbed and vision blurred, until the two women finally split up, one staggering off down the front garden path to her husband’s car, the other waving at the door before turning back to us and re-seating herself neatly, brushing ash from the skirt of her suit (a Hardy Amies rip-off if you’re interested. She is prettier – if a lot more ferocious – than most mummies).
“Now, you lot. Time for a talk.”
“Not now,” sighs Edmund – the eldest, largest and most overbearing brother, and therefore official spokesman. Mother glares at her children; several pairs of pinpoint pupils attempt, without success, to focus on her. Mother gives up – temporarily, for she is famously tenacious.
Thus later on here we are back in position, this time with a strategy.
Mother outlines her demands, which are much as anticipated, and negotiations begin.
“… fewer chores,” Edmund drones, ticking his fingers. “Me and Hugh to be let off digging and composting, Min to be in charge of all of the washing-up [I probably squeaked loudly at this point] … and a 15 percent raise in pocket-money.”
The real conflict could now commence, and although we knew in advance that we were doomed we always felt we had to at least mount a show of resistance, if only for form’s sake.
Mother folds her arms, the light of battle in her dark blue eyes as they pass from one to another, mesmerising us all.
“Right, X” – she speaks to each child in turn. This takes some time as Mother always had a problem with names (even before age and arteriosclerosis zapped her synapses). Typically, she addressed us individually and collectively, opting for a strangely atavistic litany resembling the opening of a Dark Age praise-poem, embracing pets, husband and children and straying selectively into the outer spheres of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Eventually all the relevant familial boxes were ticked, thus:
“You, yes you: Edmund-Hugh-Ter’-Lucie-Rognvald-Dai-Joxer-Philippa-Diana-Christopher-Minnie-James!”
We were bound to concede her victory – although we did wrest the odd concession in exchange for our staying off the pharmaceuticals. And as these compensations involved food – Mother was a cordon bleu cook among other things – honour was finally satisfied, to say nothing of us who, like most children, love their grub.
I wonder how much today’s children have lost. So many of them appear both more mollycoddled and more deprived than us. We must have been so privileged, with our blissfully unconcerned rough-and-tumble pursuits and endless wilderness-explorations, all interspersed with tough discipline at home and school (our parents generally took our teacher’s side against us). Discipline, internalised, matures into ability to concentrate, organise – bringing focus to resourcefulness and creativity. A curse at the time, it turned out a blessing. Instead, the succeeding poor vulnerable mites face recession, depression and the detritus of a consumer-crazed society. I wonder if the latter, together with the corollary clebollocks, will be the first things the next generation aims at the scrap heap when it grows up. Alternatively or even additionally, the first thing to go might just be … us. Surely not?
Angelic illustrations courtesy of clever Kat
And, yes, the title’s a nod to the inestimable Sellars & Yeatman.
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