Tag Archives: family

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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Christmas Kitsch and Family Arguments

Every year on 1 December, with great ceremony, we bring this creature out of the cupboard.

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We are Jewish but this doesn’t prevent us from embracing the spirit of Christmas. And what better way to do so than with a reindeer dressed up as Santa Claus who, when you squeeze its hoof, bobs about playing Santa Claus is Coming to Town?

Every year, as soon as it emerges, the same argument starts: is it a moose or a reindeer? Debating this point is at least as important as actually playing with it in the first place.

We are divided into two factions, with the older children on my husband Anthony’s side (in the moose camp) and the four-year-old supporting me (advocate of the reindeer theory).

Anthony argues that it’s a moose because it looks like a moose. It has a squishy flat nose like a moose, not a pointy one like a reindeer.

But obviously, it is a reindeer. Look at it. It has antlers. It has a Santa costume. It plays Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

I come from a family of scientists and, even though I’m not one myself, I’m a fervent supporter of evidence-based research and rational thinking.

But this isn’t a scientific question, and therefore an objective empirical approach is inappropriate. It’s all about context.

My late father-in-law, the excellent Bryan Reuben, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Technology, was a keen and very good cook. He had a baking tray in his house that he once mentioned had been used by his children, when they were small, to hold frogspawn.

I expressed concern over the fact that he was still cooking with a tray that had been formerly used to hatch tadpoles. (I don’t think I actually said ‘Bleeeuurrgghh!’ because I wouldn’t have been so rude – but that was the general gist.)

He said that the tray had been thoroughly sterilised and any amphibian organisms definitively extinguished many years ago. I replied that I completely understood that – but that it was the idea that it had been used to hold frogspawn that I found revolting. The fact that if you examined the tray under a microscope you would find no trace of its former use was simply neither here nor there.

Similarly, I don’t care how much, objectively, our jazz-playing reindeer looks like a moose. It’s obviously supposed to be a reindeer, and therefore it is a reindeer.

I canvassed opinion on the matter on Facebook and people were strongly divided.

My friend Gemma did have this key insight, though: ‘It could be a moose. They are great saxophonists. Reindeer are usually percussionists.’

Be that as it may, I feel the matter is finally closed.  I have discovered a hitherto unseen label on the reindeer’s back:

image1 (1)

Anthony has implied that I may have planted this message. I can’t believe he imagines that I’m so lacking in integrity and moral rectitude that I would be prepared to fake something of this nature.

Happy Christmoose.

***

Does your family like arguing for the enjoyment of it? And if so, what about?

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Lemons, Radio 4, and Turning Into My Mother

Kitchen

One morning a little while ago, I was standing in the kitchen in my apron, making apple pie. I was rolling out pastry made to my mother’s recipe, and in the background, Radio 4 was playing. Probably I was listening to an interview with a redoubtable old lady who had trekked solo across the Arctic with a band of huskies. Or maybe some comedians were struggling to get to Mornington Crescent, or a resident of Ambridge was worrying about whether he’d be able to dig up the potatoes in the South Field before the rain started.

Anyway, I was feeling completely content and in my element, until a realisation struck me – I had become my mother. Everything about the scene – the pastry, the radio station, the apron – was the very essence of her.

This moment had been coming for some time. My mum always used to say,
“Every week, I buy a lemon. I never know what I’m going to need it for, but I buy it just in case. And every week, I always do need it”.

My husband Anthony had heard her say this, so every time I bought a lemon, he used to asked in anxious tones whether I knew what I was going to use it for. He was checking that I hadn’t bought it ‘just in case’ – which would be a sure sign that I was turning into my mother.

These days, I use lemons in all sorts of recipes and tend to have several in stock at a time, so they can no longer be used as a becoming-my-mother-indicator. Indeed, my friend Adi came over a few weeks ago on the Jewish Sabbath for a post-synagogue meal. It was a last-minute invitation and so I hadn’t prepared anything – or indeed, done any food shopping for several days. So I explained that all I had to offer her for dessert was a lemon or an apple. Then I checked, and realised we had run out of apples.

She said she didn’t want the lemon, and personally I think that’s quite rude. When you’re invited to eat in people’s houses, you shouldn’t turn down the food you’re offered. I felt my hospitality was just thrown back in my face.

Anyway, back to my mother. I asked Anthony yesterday, for the purposes of this blog post, in what other ways he felt I was turning her. He said that he was unable to answer that as it would only get him into trouble. No amount of pressing would get him to say anything else, so I can only guess.

If I ever find myself watering the garden while it’s actually raining, the die will finally be cast.