Manners. Gum: To Chew or Not to Chew?

Illustration by NatalliaPavaliayeva

Gum – bubble or chewing – can lead to dramatic accidents. The following recounts what happened to one young boy…

The Bubble Gum Tragedy

Bobby blew a bubble out of bubble gum one day,

And it was such a giant one it carried him away.

He sailed above the rooftops like a helium balloon.

His mother cried, “Come back at once, it’s time for dinner soon.”

But sadly, Bobby could not heed this order from his mum,

Because his lips were stuck fast to the bright pink bubble gum.

The neighbours rushed into the street and pointed in dismay,

As Bobby shrank into a dot and drifted far away.

And further yet and further, up up into the blue,

He drifted to such dizzy heights he vanished clear from view.

For weeks they sent up spaceships – on board were rescue men,

But Bobby and his bubble gum were never seen again.

So if you must chew bubble gum, be careful or you may

Come to a very sticky end as Bobby did that day.

To avoid gum mishaps, follow The Gum Code.

Do not chew dramatically in public: you are not the manager of a professional football team. And even if you are, don’t do it.

Do not chew at ANY sad or tragic or important event: it looks as if you don’t care, and even if that’s the case, some of the people attending the sad/tragic/important event do care and won’t thank you.

Dispose of your gum carefully: your sister’s hair is not a suitable place and neither is beneath your desk or bed. Bin it.

A Short History of Manners

A fall in standards resulted in exclusion from polite society

Manners makyth man was the motto of William Wykeham, a man who lived in the 14th century, and although that period isn’t a shining example of civilized behaviour, what with its beheadings, floggings, dungeons, brawls and general brutishness, his motto drew attention to a politer way to live.

Although people’s behaviour continued to be violent, it was at least accompanied by please and thank you, due to William. The aristocracy in particular began to abide by rules of etiquette and would often present a wonderfully formal banquet to the king, before stabbing him to death. And instead of a prisoner being told, “Get yer head on that block,” a much pleasanter, “If you could just lay your head down on that block, please,” made proceedings much more courteous.

By Victorian times genteel behaviour had got out of hand: people required an encyclopaedic knowledge of cutlery items and how to use them, not to mention knowing when and where certain garments should be worn and how often they should be changed. The slightest deviation from the social code could spell disaster. Decorum was everything. I include, below, an excerpt from the poem, “The Lady Languishes,” as an illustration.

The Lady Languishes (an excerpt)

While others trip the polka gay

She grips her throat in anguish,

And calls a footman to prepare

A couch on which to languish.

The party strikes a merry note,

The host is gaily feted,

While she in desperation seeks

Oil that is camphorated.

Ah! What pale lily gilds her cheek?

Her breathing rattles so!

Alas, she has no handkerchief

On which her nose to blow.

And out her dainty nostril drips

A liquid pale as water –

Her heart beats fast and so she grasps

Something she didn’t oughta.

The fine white tablecloth she takes,

And bows her head down close…

And thinking no one sees the sin,

She quickly wipes her nose.

Those of you familiar with the poem will know she is spotted committing the faux pas and is exiled from polite society for the rest of her days.

Today, thankfully, manners have moved on, and polite society is less burdened with dos and don’ts, but it is still useful to know a few basics to ensure smooth social interactions. And this is why my next series of articles will be a guide to modern etiquette.

Parents: A Users Guide. Part 6, The Strict Parents.

Will never be heard to say, “Do what you like. It’s up to you.”

Strict parents’ expressions 1# What on earth are you doing?

2# I cannot believe you just did that!
#3 Right! No spends, no computer, no phone for a year!

Another way to describe strict parents is bossy. As far as they’re concerned, you and your brothers and sisters are raw military recruits and they’re the sergeant majors who have to knock you into shape – not literally, of course, that’s against the law, although prior to the 1950s, a little light thrashing could easily have come your way because strict parents (which was pretty much all of them,) had a whole range of punishments with jolly descriptions that we’d now call common assault. Below are some examples:

A clip around the ear = Nothing to do with hair ornaments. It means a sharp, painful smack on, or near, the ear.

Six of the best = The best sounds promising, doesn’t it, until you discover it refers to being hit across your palm with a cane six times. Hard.

A round with Tommy Tickler = Again, sounds like it could be fun, but in reality it’s being hit on the backside with a gym shoe in a way that’s anything but ticklish.

Phew! Bet you’re glad you missed those.

Of course, there are other punishments parents can employ because, let’s face it, they’ve got the power. They can stop you: going places, using electronic devices, having your spending money etc. and while some parents might just threaten, strict parents follow through. Always. And it’s pointless to beg, reason, or threaten right back, because that’s their excuse to ramp up the punishments. Seriously, some prison inmates have easier lives.

What can you do? You could do as you’re told, but that would make you middle aged before you’re twelve. So the answer is, you have to become very devious and develop a split personality.

At home you are obedient and a carbon copy of your parents’ opinions and activities – thus lulling them into a sense of false security. In no time at all they’ll genuinely believe you’ve just popped out to the library/chess club/art gallery/chamber concert.

Meanwhile, to the outside world you’re a wild child who hangs around the skate-park, bowling alley, shopping mall, disco and pool hall. At school, teachers dread having you in class and you can be as cheeky as you like, because there’s no way on God’s green earth your folks can imagine you being anything other than obedient, so will defend you to their last breath.

Just be very careful you don’t get found out. Good luck!

Do you, or did you have strict parents? How did you cope? Comments and tips welcome!

Parents: A User’s Guide, Part 5. Active Parents.

Will never be heard to say, “Let’s just chill with a box set.”

If you enjoy fording rivers, scaling mountain ranges and skidding through forests on a trail bike, then active parents are no problem – they are in fact the perfect fit. But if you’d rather curl up with a good book, or view the dangers of the natural world through a You Tube video, this type of parent is your worst nightmare come real.

Just one of the daring activities active parents want you to try.

The big problem is their belief they’re giving you a lifestyle that will keep you fit and healthy. Sadly, even recurring visits to A&E to set your broken bones won’t convince them otherwise. You see, the outdoorsy mums and dads consider accidents a small price to pay for the whizzy adrenaline rush that comes from hanging off a mountainside with two fingers, or hoisting a topsail in a tsunami. That’s their idea of fun. Honestly.

But if it isn’t your idea of fun, that’s probably because you’re not good at it, and if you’re not good at it, your challenge is, “How do I survive?” The best plan is to develop an allergy to something outdoors, such as pollen, or trees, or water. Just make sure it’s something vague and common or they’ll find an environment without it.

Of course, developing allergies on demand isn’t easy, so you must become a master of theatrical make-up. There are many You Tube videos that show how to achieve rashes using nothing more than crispy breakfast cereal, glue and a little face paint. Or if you feel the need for something more dramatic, fill a hot water bottle with vegetable soup, hide it beneath your jumper, then, bending over expel the contents, making bleughhh! noises. It’s surprisingly effective. After your allergy has ruined a few days’ outings, you’ll find your folks less keen to drag you along. At this point, suggest spending the day at a friend’s house or your grandparents’, and as long as they’re as laid back as you, you’ll have no trouble settling down to a whole day of computer games.

If you’ve survived active parents, why not share how you did it?

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!

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.


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.

PARENTS: A User’s Guide, Part 1. The Slapdash Parents.

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

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.