Monday, 17 March 2008

"Have you said your thank-you's?"

Meg has posted a funny note about the knack parents have of embarrassing their children. I suspect this skill is universal, so maybe there is some Darwinian advantage in it. Perhaps making their young glow red with shame focusses predators' attention on them, allowing the parents to escape and breed again? Or perhaps it is a sublimated pecking order activity, helping to secure alpha male/female status for the ageing parent - a substitute for the sort of painful bite which other primates employ, but which we find awkward to accommodate in everyday social situations. ("Excuse me a moment, Vicar, while I bite my son on the leg").

On a sailing holiday on the Norfolk Broads once, we moored alongside the New Inn in Horning. Spotting the owner in the garden, my father instructed me to approach him and say, "My father's compliments. What time is dinner served, please?" Resentful, tongue-tied and pink, I caught up with this complete stranger and blurted out, "My father's complaints, and when's dinner?"

My mother had the gift too. In Grays, Princes Risborough's smartest (and only) gentlemen's outfitters, she once stated in ringing tones, "My son needs washable underpants."

And who hasn't experienced that moment when your mother arrives to collect you from a party. You are waiting for a pause in the conversation between her and the hostess for the perfect moment to say, "Thank you very much for having me," when she leans down and says in a stage whisper that can be heard forty feet away, "Have you said your thank-you's?" - thus robbing you of any initiative and leaving you feeling like a gauche ingrate.

On one horrible occasion I was taken to Trumpers in Curzon Street for a haircut. Operating from the same premises since 1875 and reportedly frequented by Prince Charles, it had mahogany-panelled private cubicles and was scarily sophisticated for a ten-year old country bumpkin like me. The staff wore stripey waistcoats and were better dressed than headmasters. Worse still, I had been given half-a-crown and instructed to give it to the barber as a tip. When it came to the crunch, I couldn't. The idea of slipping a coin to a grown-up seemed impossible. As I rejoined my father in the foyer the barber lingered expectantly. "Did you give..." my father began. "Yes," I replied, my face burning as I felt the weight of the coin in my pocket.

It's not as if I did it for the money. Although I think I spent it in the Army and Navy Store on Victoria Street, on a stuffed baby crocodile. Two crimes with one half-crown.

1 comment:

  1. Painfully familiar! It's what childhood's all about though, then you get to your late teens and the tables slowly start to turn. I enjoy embarrassing mum in public to get back for things like the dentist appointments.