Category Archives: childhood

Missing the Car Wash and the Colour of Nuns – the Traumas of Being the Youngest Child

It’s rubbish being the youngest in the family, and I should know. When I was born, my closest brother in age was already 7, and the oldest was 14. Even Prudence our cocker spaniel was older than me.

This huge age gap meant that my brothers were able not merely to tease me, but to weave elaborate scams that I had no hope at all of seeing through. It was a completely one-sided arrangement because I was far too inexperienced ever to get my own back.

For example…

We were privileged enough to be a two-TV family. We had a colour set in the living room, with a dial to change the channel between BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. It was very similar to this one:

IMG_3577
And we had a black and white TV in the dining room with four separate channel buttons… “In case they ever bring out a fourth channel,” my dad explained to me.

If my brothers and I wanted to see something different at the same time, then of course we argued about who got to use the colour set. On one particular occasion I wanted to watch The Sound of Music. My brother Nick, maybe 13 at the time to my 6,  explained to me that I would be better off watching this particular film on the black and white TV.

“Why?” I asked.
“Because of the nuns,” he replied, completely dead pan.

And I bought it. I trotted meekly off to watch in the dining room. Although I assume that there must have been a tiny suspicion in the back of my mind that I was being had, because why else would I remember the incident 35 years or so later?

A more regular, and possibly even more surreal piece of teasing, happened every Saturday when we would all drive from Sunderland to Newcastle to visit my grandma.  My parents would sit in the front, and the four of us would be crammed into the back (no seatbelts obviously) with the dog across our knees.

Part of the way through the journey, there was a car wash. A perfectly ordinary car wash in a petrol station next to a roundabout. Every week,  my brothers would wait till we’d driven past it (with me invariably looking the other way) and then they’d chant:

“Susan missed the car wash! Susan missed the car wash!”
“AND” they’d add, “it had a white Rolls Royce in it!”

Then they’d fall about laughing. And my parents would tell them off, but you could hear that they were trying not to laugh, too.

And I’d cry.
Every single week.

Now that I’m nearly 42 my brothers are really quite nice to me. And over the years I’ve become much better at making sure I don’t miss car washes.

But still, when our youngest child (who is only 4) gets furiously angry because his older siblings are laughing at something unintentionally funny that he’s said, I empathise. I really do. Though it can sometimes be a struggle not to laugh, too.

***

Do you have any equally traumatic stories of sibling teasing? If so, please tell me about them in the comments section.

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Why don’t we talk on the phone any more?

In the early 1980s, my dad, brother and I would watch Doctor Who, religiously, every Saturday afternoon.

(Religiously is perhaps the wrong word, because being Jewish, we shouldn’t have been watching TV at all on a Saturday afternoon. But anyway…)

My dad would sit in his special armchair, with me aged seven or so on his knee, and my big brother squashed in beside us. This was a good set-up as it made sure we were well protected from the Daleks and any other aliens who might wish the Doctor ill.

One day, though, we were out on Saturday afternoon, and we realised that we hadn’t remembered to video that day’s episode. My mum was at home but – disaster – we didn’t have any cash to phone her. What to do?

You remember how it was with red telephone boxes… you didn’t have to put your money in till the person at the other end answered? You’d hear ‘Hello!’ and then you’d put push in your 5p.

So, we dialled our home number, and when my mum said ‘Hello?’ we simultaneously shouted ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ before we were cut off.

Just to be sure, we phoned again.

‘Hello?’ said my mum, sounding a little bemused this time. ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ we shouted over her.

The third time, her ‘Hello’ was starting to sound slightly hysterical…

It worked, though. When we got home, my long-suffering mother had understood the message and duly recorded the episode.

None of which has got anything to do with why we don’t talk on the phone any more – it was just a quirky story about telephones.

The thing is, I think if you’d said to us that day:

‘In the future, everyone is going to carry tiny rectangular computers in their pocket. If they want to communicate with someone they’ll be able to choose either to:

a) dial their number and talk
or
b) type a message to them on a miniature keyboard and wait for them to reply…’

…and if you’d then asked us which method people were likely to choose more often, I’m pretty certain we would have answered ‘a)’.

We would possibly have added, ‘Derrrr’… except I don’t think that sound had been invented at the time.

But we would, of course, have been wrong.

So why do people (including myself) treat most phonecalls as stressful, intrusive and unnecessary? I really don’t get it. And yet, I really do embrace it.

The other day at work, I needed to contact the IT department. Being reasonably new to the company, I asked a colleague how to do so.

She helpfully picked up my phone, dialled IT’s extension, then handed me the receiver, leaving me in a state of panic.

‘Oh my god. She’s expecting me to talk to them? I didn’t want their phone number – I wanted their email address! This is sheer madness!’

Luckily, the IT department clearly felt the same way, because the call went to voicemail and I was able to put the receiver down (without actually leaving a message, obviously), find out their email address and write to them instead – like any sensible person.

It only took them 24 hours to get back to me. What more could you ask for?

*******

So, do you dislike using the phone, and why?

Or do you love doing so, and hate that no one picks up any more? 

Please let me know in the comments section.

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Porridge and Sweetcorn: the Psychology of the ‘Free Gift’

Filed away in my parents’ house I found this letter that I wrote to Father Christmas when I was 5:

IMG_0033

Why a little girl from a Jewish family was writing to Father Christmas in the first place is a subject for another day…

The paper is blackened with soot because it had been sent up our chimney (obviously the only way to communicate with Santa Claus) and, as my father has noted at the bottom, was subsequently retrieved from the garden.

The first thing that might strike you about this Christmas list is the paper it’s written on. It advertises:

ANUSOL: Soothes painful piles and anal irritation 

My father practised as a GP in a large Sunderland health centre and drug companies constantly tried to seduce him with freebies, including this branded paper.

Practically everything in our house seemed to have the name of a drug company on it: paper, pens, calendars, mugs…

My parents always welcomed these gifts enthusiastically. I’m pretty sure that we would have had a sofa with Amoxicillin-branded cushions or a car painted with the Nurofen logo, had they been offered to us.

I remember one of the free items was  a gadget that would cut through your seat belt if you found yourself entangled in it due to a car crash. I’m not sure what was written on it. Perhaps, “You’ll never feel trapped with Laxido”.

I think there’s a curious psychology surrounding the idea of the ‘free gift’. (Incidentally, the term itself is tautological: if it’s a gift, then you’d expect it to be free.) We have a tendency to accept things that are free, even if we have no desire for them whatsoever.

I re-entered office life last year after nine years of working from home. I was bizarrely excited about every aspect of the corporate world because I’d spent so long away from it. One day I emailed my husband Anthony in great excitement, saying,

“They’re giving away free porridge with golden syrup in every kitchen!”

“But you don’t like porridge…” he replied.

“Yes,” I said, “but it feels really good to know that if I did like it, I could have it. And for free!”

More recently, in my current office, these boxes turned up containing packets of microwavable ‘express’ sweetcorn:

IMG_0035

This photo was taken only about 5 minutes after they’d arrived and already the boxes are half empty. By the time the email came round saying ‘There are packets of microwavable sweetcorn in the kitchens’, the whole lot had already been snaffled.

Now sweetcorn is, admittedly, quite a useful thing. Most people like a bit of sweetcorn with their dinner now and again. But nobody could claim it was exciting. I’m not sure the fact that it ‘heats in 1 minute’ really made much difference either. I don’t generally think, ‘I would eat sweetcorn much more often if only it didn’t take so long to prepare…’.

No, the speed with which those packets vanished was, I’m sure, almost entirely due to the mysterious power of the ‘free gift’.

Anyway, back to the Anusol…

I can only assume that Father Christmas was not impressed with my choice of writing paper because, despite having requested it in my letter, I wasn’t given a Cindy (sic), and certainly didn’t receive ‘all the clothes and all the furniture’ to accompany her. Which just goes to show that presentation really matters: sometimes it’s worth ignoring the free gift and spending a bit of money.

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