Childish ways

Mar 31st, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Did you ever get the saliva and handkerchief treatment?

You know, you are just about to go somewhere and your mother says, ‘You can’t go looking like that’,  and she licks a corner of a hankie and starts dabbing at your face.

You looked fine when you looked in the mirror, but judging by the amount of rubbing the face now requires you must have looked like a commando about to go into combat, or a bowler on a sunny day at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Of course, that was only the start of it.  Despite having used Head and Shoulders since infancy, there was always some micro speck of dandruff to be brushed from the shoulders.  Then there was the straightening of the collar and then, ‘Would you tuck that shirt in, anyone would think you had been lying asleep the way you look’.

The shoes were always a problem.  The guards outside of Buckingham Palace might have had boots that looked dull in comparison; were it a sunny day, there would be a danger of dazzling people with the reflection from the toes; but there would be the inquiry, ‘Did you clean your shoes?’ The most common memory from childhood is taking the polish and brushes out of a little cupboard and cleaning the shoes, every day.

Sometimes it would have been simpler to have gone in gardening clothes and wellies; the response would hardly have been different.

When the handkerchief came out, it meant that the visit was important; one had to look what was judged to be ‘your best’.

Should the tidying exercise take place in the front of people from outside the family, it was a source of major embarrassment.  It was hard to imagine that anyone else’s mother would treat them  in such a manner.

The makeover would be completed, the handkerchief put away, and there would be a second survey, and a nod.  Not perfect, but I would have to do.

Having hair that is neither straight nor curly, but prone to stick out in big cow licks, it was probably a mercy that it was cut short for most of those years.

Driving down the road this afternoon, the traffic lights turned red and a glance in the mirror revealed that the March wind had made a bird’s nest of the hair.  Hastily trying to tidy it before the traffic moved off, a wave stuck out at a thirty degree angle, licking the fingers and trying to plaster it down there was a sudden memory of the hankie treatment.

For a brief moment, there was a sense of the excitement of such times.  To be all going out together meant some special occasion; some gathering where it was important to be looking one’s best. There was an innocent delight, even when suffering the indignity.

Something got lost in growing up;  maybe something that didn’t even need to be put aside.

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  1. Oh yes….all of our mothers “licked” us but our mother made us wet the hanky with our spit! (She’d had TB and was ultra careful about infection.) But the process was the same, and the “you’ll do” verdict was pronounced! Happy days!

  2. Ha, ha. I swore I would never do that to the boys but have once when no wipes or face cloth were available and I was out and about. I am fussy about the clothes and the shoes though. lol

  3. My youngest uncle passed on this wisdom to me when I was young which is kind of related to your post.
    Far from going out looking completely spic and span, he advised entering the bar, dance, social occasion with the label of your jumper sticking up out the back. This would provide the excuse for girls to notice, take pity on you and then tuck the label back in out of sight. By which time any ice would be broken and conversation and contact begun.
    I wonder would that still work these days, or have girls grown tired of the feigned inadequacies approach?

  4. BW,

    I think the ‘helpless male’ syndrome probably no longer works. Equality includes expecting men to be able to dress!

  5. Yes me too. My Mother called it “a lick and a promise”!!!!!!!!

  6. Ian….Haha yeah I remember your wavy hair from years ago,but then I guess you didn’t have your hair cut in Harveys in Langport…why was my fringe always at 30 degrees?????!!!!! what I would give for some hair to plaster down now though!!!!!!

  7. My mum worked in Harvey’s – but before your time! Wasn’t he called Bow?

    My dad used to take me to Charlie Coe’s when I was young.

  8. I cannot remember his name, I remember that he had the little paper shop down on the corner opposite the Post Office and the hairdressers part the way up Langport Hill,both premises an aladdins cave of clutter, and the plank that he put across the arms of the barbers chair so I was sat high enough for him to cut my hair……I went to Charlie Coe’s once, I seem to remember he used to give a really close cut…………I can remember your Mum doing peoples hair at home……

  9. I think his name was ‘Bob’; ‘Bow’ came from his gait!

    My memory of Charlie Coe was of a dapper man with cigarette in his mouth and clippers at the ready.

    Mum did some home hairdressing up until fairly recent times.

  10. I remember the ‘spit and polish’, the ‘pride feels no pain’ as mammy tugged at the tangles in my hair and polishing the shoes… all eight pairs from daddy’s Lee boots through to my sisters little pair. Once satisfied we lined up all eight pairs in a row in the hall ready for going to church on a Sunday!

  11. I think I could have done with your mam to manage my hair!

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