Saturday, 31 October 2015

Who's for a Mintoe?


There is a cutesy, homesy, usually irritating radio program on R4 every Saturday morning called 'Home Truths', which is hosted by a gay vicar who used to be a pop-star and an English Moslem woman with Pakistani heritage. Yes, I know, you couldn't make it up.

They usually appeal to their listeners to email or text (84844) for personal stories on a certain theme, and today's topic was 'strange family customs which seemed normal at the time'. This is just a gold-mine of a topic, because I don't think I have heard of any family that does not carry out some sort of weird, ritualistic custom behind firmly closed doors.

Someone emailed in to say that he had never met any other family whose mother served them Weetabix spread with butter or margarine, and no milk. I and about 100 others got in touch to say that our mothers did, and I guess that we are probably all from the post-war generation which went in for this sort of foodstuff - like toast and dripping.

Then there were the things which were told to us as children which we believed right up until we moved out of home and fell under the scrutiny of peers who we shared kitchens with, who were not told the same lies. My favourite was one poor kid's who was told by their father that when the ice-cream van went down the road playing Greensleeves or whatever, that this was to announce that they had run out of ice-cream! Cunning!

I was brought up in a very rich area which seldom had ice-cream vans patrolling the leafy streets, but we often heard them feintly from distant council estates. My father just loved ordinary ice-cream, and often bought a 'Walls Family Brick' (enough to make you sick), and on the rare occasions when the tinkling van was heard in our road, he would rush out having madly fumbled for a few shillings to try to catch the van before it went out of sight. He also liked pickled winkles, but he was on his own with that one.

I have been trying to think of misinformation given to me as a child, but all I can think of are things which my parents actually believed themselves - like seagulls being blown inland by a storm, for instance. There were the usual scare stories about chewing gum. Ours was that if you swallowed it, it would lodge in your appendix - I still half believe that, and so did one grand daughter. She swallowed some once in my car, and said, "OH MY GOD! I'VE JUST SWALLOWED THE CHEWING GUM! "WHAT SHOULD I DO?!" I just told her to do what she always did, but not in the car and not now.

When I heard about some families' rituals, I began to believe that my upbringing was almost boring in its normality. One used to lie on the floor on their backs after every meal - mother, father and children - and kick their legs in the air in a bicycling movement. They would invite guests to do the same thing, so it wasn't exactly a guilty secret.

Most of these rituals seemed to have grown in intensity around Christmas, with all sorts of unbreakable rules to be observed before the opening of presents. I am guessing that if you have a handful of hysterically over-excited kids who have been eating sugar since dawn, then the rituals may be for completely practical purposes.

Some families open their presents at daybreak, but we used to leave it until after the evening meal and make it as long and drawn-out as possible. I think I would have been beside myself with an almost post-coital lethargy if we had opened them in the morning.

Let's keep this going. What - if any - inexplicably strange rituals did your family have?

32 comments:

  1. My father was one of those people who ate buttered Weetabix with Marmalade; otherwise I think we were disturbingly normal.

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  2. Is there a prize for the best one? A candlestick perhaps.

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  3. You set me into a reverie of childhood and I find we were so damn normal. My dad did complain bitterly about we children inadequately rinsing the detergent from the supper dishes we washed and dried every night. The residue he believed we left on every plate either would kill the whole family, some day, or cause the next generation to be born with mutations.

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    1. I agree with your father. I wash up in the Israeli style, wiping each plate with a little detergent on a sponge and rinsing them individually.

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    2. I know. I have had 2 Israeli girlfriends, but I did it like that before I knew that they did too.

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    1. You did that too? More than once?

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    2. Sorry, I meant 'more than an ounce?'

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  5. My mother told me never to sit on a public lavatory seat and taught me to stand and squat.

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    1. Is it possible to stand and squat at the same time, given the height of public lavatory seats? Oh well, at least you didn't get pregnant.

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    2. That was another area of strangeness in my family; the nuns at school taught me about the immaculate conception and my mother held the view that I would learn the facts of life from the farm animals so told me nothing. I am still waiting for someone to tell me.

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    3. How long have you got? I have about two minutes to spare.

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    4. That was my mother's advice too (when abroad). "Hover dear boy, hover".

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  6. My father used sing quietly to himself "run rabbit run rabbit run, run, run..." when stirring his coffee. My brother got told off for copying him and was told to choose his own song. He sang "you ain't nothing but a hound dog" when stirring his drinks. Mine was "Riders on the storm..."

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    1. I would love to believe that. I - and this is definitely true - used to whistle Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' whilst having a poo, aged 4.

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    2. Both true and embellished. Nowadays I would rarely sing Riders on the Storm out loud in these circumstances but it is always on my mind. See my comment on Rachel's blog yesterday. That's true too and as I write this I realise that there is perhaps a behavioural pattern I was not previously aware off.

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    3. Well I embellished mine. I hadn't even heard of Beethoven when I was four.

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  7. We were told by our parents that if we didn't wash our ears properly we'd grow potatoes out of them. At five years of age, I'm sure I more than half believed it!

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    1. Are you sure it wasn't a typo? Did they mean 'arse'?

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    2. I guess I truly hadn't washed my ears well enough and heard 'ears' when they meant 'arse'. Ha.

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  8. My father always ate cheese with a piece of fruit cake.

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    1. That isn't strange. I do it, and so do many friends of mine. This year I will be washing down both with sloe gin.

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  9. At last I know that my family life was normal when I was growing up. No strange rituals at all. Even at Halloween we only changed into our secret Bat Clothes for just the one night.

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    1. You had secret bat clothes? And you consider yourself to be normal?

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  10. Did you know that if you are pulling a funny face when the wind changes, your face will stay like that?

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