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.
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.