Parents: A User’s Guide. Part 4, The Inconsistent Parents.

Will never be heard to say: “You know very well that’s what we always/never do in this in this house.”

Probably the trickiest parents to manage are the inconsistent. They swing from strict to easy- going with the ease of a pendulum. One minute there’s no way you’ll be allowed to go to the roller disco even for ten minutes while the next it’s of course you can go and here’s a tenner to get yourself a taxi home. Confusing, eh?

The cause of this erratic parenting is lack of confidence. If you need to confirm this, just look at your parents’ book shelves, which will be full of guides on how to raise a child. From Negotiating with Your Infant or Gentle Ways to Nurture Your Child; to the more didactic Show Your Baby Who’s Boss From Day One, or I’m the Parent Get Used to It. Clearly there’s a world of difference between these approaches, but the inconsistent parents have never found the confidence to plump for one over the other.

So now you know what’s at the root of their unpredictability, how do you manage it? Observation is crucial. When making requests, for example, you may find your mum is most co-operative after a glass of wine (relaxed) and strictest when your grandmother is around (tense). Your dad, on the other hand, if he’s a football fan, will almost certainly give you what you want when his team has won a match, but don’t be tempted to put in requests at half time, because even if his team is winning, if the midfield are passing badly and allowing the opposition too much room, he’ll be anxious so will probably say no.

One other thing to bear in mind is manners. You’ll always get a better result if you avoid muttering darkly, frowning until your face resembles a gnome’s and screaming like a banshee. Try biting your tongue if at first your request is denied. A sweet smile and a remark such as “Oh, well, just thought I’d ask,” will always undermine a parent’s confidence in their decision – and with luck, they’ll feel so guilty they’ll change their mind. Because if there’s one thing you can rely on with inconsistent parents, it’s their changeability.

Good Luck!

Aunt Grizelda’s Problem Page

A letter today all the way from Egypt, but on that universal theme – insurance claims.

Dear Aunt Grizelda,

My tomb was recently raided, the thieves taking two golden statuettes of Osiris, an enamelled Canopic jar with Anubis head handle, and a throne with ruby, lapis lazuli and sapphire decoration.

I immediately contacted my insurance company who sent round one of their assessors. A few days later I received a scroll telling me they could not pay out because my curse protection system was not set at a strong enough level to deter break-ins.

I pointed out this is only the second time in four thousand years that thieves have managed to get in and five of the six who broke in on that first occasion met swift and grisly ends. Unfortunately the survival of the sixth to a rich and happy old age is in their opinion sufficient to demonstrate a fundamental weakness in my curse security system.

What can I do?

Yours HRH T

The stolen Canopic jar.




Your Highness,

Many of my readers will sympathise with your predicament. Insurance companies are not what they were and insurance assessors are known to seek the smallest excuse by which to reject a claim.

I recall a similar incident back in the 1920s when Egyptian tombs were under daily assaults. One mummy, like you, was told his tomb was not protected by a strong enough curse. He decided to demonstrate its efficacy by cursing the assessor, who, but a day later, was killed in a camel stampede. The insurers were suitably convinced by this and paid out handsomely. Even the no claims bonus was left intact.

Of course, the above was an extreme response and before resorting to anything similar you could contact the Association of Pyramid Insurers, who will investigate your complaint, and in the meantime a warning message in blood-red hieroglyphs may deter the more cowardly or opportunist thief.

Good luck,

Aunt Grizelda.

Parents: A User’s Guide, Part 3. The Anxious Parents

Will never be heard to say, “I haven’t got time to pick you up. Catch the bus.”

In many ways you’ve got a good thing going with anxious parents. They are the taxi service par excellence. In fact, it’s very much like having your own personal chauffeur, for no matter where you need to be or when, anxious parents will make sure you never need to use that most dangerous of services – public transport. Their anxiety about buses and trains covers everything from the slim chance you’ll pick up a cold from the person sitting beside you, to the possibility a vile kidnapper will abduct you.

Also, as the child of anxious parents you’ll have lots of days off school because any tiny ache or pain is enough to persuade them you need some time in bed surrounded by your favourite computer games and snacks. You’ll probably be on first name terms with your doctor, too.

Another plus is you’ll be allowed to invite your friends for sleepovers almost whenever you like. Worried parents like to know exactly where you are, and you being in your bedroom is the kind of situation they are most happy with.

There are of course drawbacks, especially if you’re an independent type. For example, going into town on your own, or with a friend, is the kind of situation that will have them pacing the house while you’re away (that worn area of carpet around the sofa is a tell-tale sign.) They may even prevent all your attempts to strike out on your own and this can be frustrating. So how do you train them in such a way that you keep the services side, while at the same time gaining more freedom?

You will need to devise some cunning strategies. One of these is to say your friend’s parents are bringing you home/going with you/taking you there. This can work well for a while, but it only takes being found out once for them never to trust you again. Another cunning plan, if you’ve got the cash, is a life-sized dummy double and is well worth the expense. You can use it to make it look as if you’re doing homework/ in bed/ watching a video. The more realistic it is, the better, but top of the range models do have a big price tag.

By far the best and simplest strategy is to encourage your mum and dad to have another baby. Why? Babies can send parental anxieties into orbit, which means they won’t have the energy left to worry about you as well. All you need to do is suggest the lack of a small sibling is impacting on your mental health, and I’ll wager that nine months down the line you’re as free as a bird…although you might find the taxi service a little less obliging. Still, you can’t have it all.

Good Luck!

Anxious parents are usually very tired. Protecting you 24/7 is exhausting.

Parents: A User’s Guide: Part 2, The Ambitious Parents

Will never be heard to say, “We just want him/her to be happy.”

Oh dear. If you’ve got ambitious parents, I’m afraid you’ve drawn the short straw. These are people whose whole reason for living is to achieve success. Unfortunately, the success they crave isn’t for themselves, it’s for you, and they’ll stop at nothing to make you achieve it.

So how do you know if your parents come under this heading? Take this fun quiz to find out.

  1. How many after school activities do you take part in willingly?

      A)  5  B)  3-4  C)  1-2  D)  0

2) How often do your parents ask about the achievements of your friends and classmates?

      A)  Every day  B) 3-4 times a week  c) once a week   D) Never

3) Which of the following comments have you heard your parents make?

A) The early bird catches the worm.

B) You make your own luck.

C) It’s not taking part that counts, it’s winning.

D) Big results require big ambitions.

For question 1 score 5 marks for A; 3 for B; 2 for C and 0 for D

For question 2 score the same as for Q1

For Question 3 score 2 for each saying you’ve heard them say.

Results

12-18: Your parents couldn’t be much more ambitious unless they were fascist dictators or emperors

8-11: They are very keen for you to do well, but call a halt at the more extreme forms of ambition, such as bribing talent show judges and junior league referees.

3-7: Fairly keen, but can occasionally give it a rest. In fact some of the really ambitious parents would call them slackers who could try harder.

0-2: Not bothered. Phew! Your folks are NOT ambitious for you AT ALL. Congratulations.

If you scored in the 12 -18 category (and to a lesser extent in the 8-11 category,) you’ve got problems. So, how do you loosen your wildly ambitious parents’ clutches? Well, if you’ve got a younger brother or sister, it’s worth working on ways to make it look like they’ve got far more success potential than you. This can include massaging their school test results; describing to your parents some amazing sporty feat your little sibling achieved; forging a letter from their class teacher suggesting they are amazingly talented and gifted at something (choose something in the realms of possibility – a precocious talent in nuclear physics is unlikely in a nursery age child.)

The only other approach is to appear utterly hopeless at everything. This is trickier than it sounds and requires huge amounts of self-control and intentional stupidity, but even the most ardently ambitious parent will reach a point where they abandon their plans for you if you keep failing long enough. In addition, you can get back at them with a certain dramatic irony by becoming simply fantastic at something the moment they stop forcing you to do things you don’t want to do, ( see for example Winston Churchill.)

Good luck!

This illustrates the ideal for the ambitious parents, but should be followed by a Nobel prize or high public service such as Prime Minister.

Aunt Grizelda’s Problem Page: Advice to a Scottish Queen.

Family mistrust is a pernicious thing and can often prevent family members accepting help from each other and this is exemplified in today’s missive from a queen north of the border.

Hail to you Mistress Grizelda,

I would pose thee a question regarding the trust betwixt cousins.

Mine own fair cousin is monarch of a land that doth border mine own, but she is beloved of her people and ministers, and doth hold full sway over them, whilst I am beset by rogues and traitors that would hurry me from hence to my grave. In consequence, thereof, I am minded to accept the sanctuary she hast most recently offered me.

Howsomever, it is said by some that her sweet missives offer false hope, and cometh from a grasping, wolfish heart – that in truth, she doth seek to steal Scotland from me.

What course should I take?

Adieu and God rest you merry,

M. Q of S. 

Dear M Q of S,

As G. H. Lewes wrote, “Murder, like talent, seems occasionally to run in families.” And never was this truer than when the family in question is royal. The briefest scan of a history book reveals a shocking litany of horrid murders of kings and queens that in the most part were plotted by their nearest and dearest. And for why? Power. And what avails more power? More land.

But of course, your cousin is currently in a very strong position while you are in a weak one, and while good sense might caution you from throwing yourself upon her mercy, surely she would not sleep easy were anything to befall a sister queen?

It seems to me you have little option but to accept your cousin’s offer and I am sure all will be well if you can demonstrate to her your thankfulness.

Good luck, (and hide a dagger beneath your farthingale just to be on the safe side.)

Aunt Grizelda.

PARENTS: a User’s Guide

The shelves of book stores groan with guides to bringing up children, but are there any that help children deal with their parents? NO. Why is this? Frankly it’s to do with cold hard cash. Who has the most money in your family? That’s right – your parents, and they will part with quite a lot of it for a book that shows them how to keep you in your place. Is that fair? Of course not.

But help is at hand. The following series of articles will help you identify the type of parent you’ve got, because while parents are all different, they can be divided into certain categories. And different types need different handling techniques.

Part 1: The Slapdash Parents: Will never be heard to say: Have you done your homework?

Slapdash parents were once referred to as laid back, and can be identified by a very relaxed attitude to bringing you up – that is they will put as little effort into it as humanly possible. They will never intrude into your territory unless invited, and will never demand you tidy your room. They will seldom, if ever, order you to go to bed at a sensible time, or have a bath or shower; even your dental hygiene may be left entirely up to you. Their communication with your school teachers will be so rare, information about your misdeeds will not reach them, unless you’re the school criminal, and even if it does, they’re unlikely to do much about it, agreeing with you that whatever you did wasn’t your fault and punishing you would be unfair (and too much effort on their part.)

This may sound like paradise, and it is, until the following things happen – rats occupy your bedroom to feast on the mouldering junk food on the dirty plates; you’re so tired you fall asleep in lessons and fail all your exams; you believe you will never ever be punished for anything at all, no matter what you did; your teeth drop out and everyone avoids you and calls you Stinky. Obviously, these are outcomes to avoid. So how do you get slapdash parents to take more responsibility without turning your life into a rigidly supervised jail sentence?

The obvious answer is to take some responsibility for yourself – but unfortunately that means acting more like a parent than your parents, and what kid wants that? So, there are two things you need to do. The first is to increase their energy levels. Vitamin tablets are relatively cheap and might just be the pick-me-up they need to make them put in a bit more effort. In tandem with this, work on their guilt levels. An official looking letter from school implying a visit from a social worker is imminent often has the desired effect. (If you can snaffle a piece of school headed paper to write it on, so much the better.) Results should be rapid. You can expect to find your school uniform washed and ironed and your room fumigated and its unwelcome residents expelled. Further, those parental slips giving permission for you to attend fun school events will be signed. And you may find after a few shower and toothbrush reminders you’ve gained some friends.

Good luck!

The grubby jumper, missing teeth and smiling face are a sure sign of the slapdash parent.

Parents: A User’s Guide.

Next article…Part 2: The Ambitious Parents

Career Advice for a Scottish Wraith

The following problem was sent to me by a Scottish gentleman and concerns his prospects for career advancement.

Dear Aunt Grizelda,

I’m working nichts at a Highland castle that gies holiday accommodation to Sassenachs. Mony o’ them are braw pleasant and gie muckle appreciation o’ my haunting skills wi’ grete screams and trimbling. And on one occasion a lassie would nae return to her room once she’d spied me there.

The problem is, it’s the same auld routine nicht after nicht. I’d love a change o’ scene. However, I ken I  need a level four GNVQ in order to progress to palace haunting and it’s a lang course. Can ye tell me if there’s any quick way aroond this?

Thank you.

R the B

Dear R the B,

Haunting, by its very nature, is confined to a particular place, and yes that can lead to feelings of being trapped. But changing location can be tricky (vacancies are rare) and as you rightly noted, a GNVQ 4 (Ghostly National Vocational Qualification) is a requirement for palaces, abbeys and cathedrals, and the course lasts a century.

There are of course things you can do to relieve the tedium. Ratcheting up the weird happenings with louder bumps, scarier costumes and blood curdling screams, is not only a lot of fun, but may cause the castle owner to bring in an exorcist. Depending on the exorcist’s skill, this could result in you being transported to a new location: but you will have no choice over which one, and could end up haunting somewhere unglamorous such as alley or factory.

My favoured solution would be to attach yourself to a guest you take a liking to. If they can afford to stay at a castle they are most likely wealthy enough to own a large and elegant home. And if the guest is American, you can be sure of an enthusiastic welcome in the United States. I hear Trump Tower is particularly good for ghosts.

Good Luck!

Aunt Grizelda.

The Black Castle: R the B’s current haunting location.

Matrimonial Customs of Yorkshire. Part 2: Sailing the Clog

During the nineteenth century a large part of the Yorkshire population worked in the textile mills. Days were long and arduous, and sturdy clothing and footwear a necessity. In this situation the clog was the shoe of choice. Inelegant but hard wearing, over time it came to symbolise the grit and bloody minded staying power of a Yorkshire marriage, and thus grew up the custom of sailing the clog.

Every year, on All Hallows’ Eve, the young men and women with marriage in mind would meet down by their nearest beck. In turn, the young men would present their right clog to the maiden they wanted to wed, and she would launch it into the stream. If the clog sank, the omens for such a pairing were bad, but if the clog floated, they were good, and the couple would agree on a date for their wedding.

A great deal hinged on the clog’s performance, for if it sank, not only was the youth disappointed in his choice of sweetheart, he would also have to spend many weeks with a bare right foot – an uncomfortable situation in the chilly north.

The story goes that one village lass, a proud beauty named Edna Tiplady, was keen to avoid marrying any of the local lads, and devised a way of slipping an old horseshoe into the clog before throwing it in. She succeeded in this ruse for many years until at length she caught the eye of the mill owner’s son, Archie Longbottom. Smitten by her beauty, Archie started courting her.

One day, he asked how it was she had remained unmarried for so long. She explained about the horse shoe ploy. Astonished by her cunning, Archie broke off with her, reasoning that a girl who would put a horseshoe in a clog to rid herself of an unwanted suitor would not be beyond putting arsenic in glass of claret to rid herself of an unwanted husband. (To be fair, Edna could see his point.)

Fortunately, losing the chance of a rich husband proved but a small setback, for Edna went on to create the very first treacle toffees. These soon became that well-known brand, Tiplady’s Tasty Tyke Toffees.

Eventually, sailing the clog died out as a custom. As for Edna, she never married and remained for the rest of her life an astute, wealthy, and happy business woman.

Matrimonial Customs of Yorkshire: Part 1

The first thing that comes to mind for most brides-to-be planning their wedding is the dress. While the shape, length and material change with the fashions of the day, traditionally, white and cream are the favoured shades. Except, that is, if you hail from the quaint Yorkshire village of Ludderley Bridge. Here, an ancient rhyme predicts the type of married life the couple will experience, based on the colour of the bridal gown.

Conjugal Colour Considerations

Marry in green, no joy will be seen.

Marry in red, you’ll wish yourself dead.

Marry in pink, your fortunes will sink.

Marry in grey, you’ll both rue the day.

Marry in blue, your fears will come true.

Marry in gold, despair will unfold.

Marry in yellow, you’ll shout and he’ll bellow.

Marry in white, you’ll bicker and fight.

Marry in cream, you’ll live a bad dream.

Marry in black, bad luck will attack.

The rhyme is believed to be the last verse penned by ten times married poet, Zebediah Platt (1729- 1778). Zebediah met a rather unfortunate and curious end when he was sewn into a tapestry at Fiddleston Hall, by the bridal dressmaker to Lady Marylla Dunnit.

It is believed he was attempting to spy on the dress-fitting from behind the tapestry to check the chosen colour augured well for his 11th marriage, but the ladies noticed him, and Lady Marylla was so annoyed, she ordered the dressmaker to sneakily sew him into his hiding place.

Although the action was not meant to occasion any lasting harm, the thick tapestry fabric suffocated him, thus proving the old adage: Curiosity killed the Platt, (and inspiring the board game, Who Dunnit?)

Even today, local belief in the rhyme’s prophetic accuracy is so strong that Ludderly Bridge is the one place in the country where purple or orange gowns are more popular than white or cream.

Do you know of any unusual matrimonial customs from your part of the world? If so, I would love to hear about them.