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 User’s Guide. Part 7, The Embarrassing Parents.

Will never be heard to say: “Stop doing that. People are looking!”

Morris dancing is a particularly attractive hobby to embarrassing parents.

So you’re probably thinking, “How can this be a special category? ALL parents are embarrassing.” And it’s true, they are; from the dads who demonstrate how to do a sliding tackle or a break dance move, to the mums who think they’re still young enough to wear the latest skimpy fashions. But to be fair, most parents are only embarrassing occasionally…except for the ones who’ve made it their life’s work to be cringey ALL the time.

Full on embarrassing parents are without fail

  • Loud
  • Very sociable
  • Ready to try anything
  • Involved in acting/bands/morris dancing/political activism/performance art/poetry/

Your credibility with friends can be seriously undermined by these types. But apart from avoiding being seen with them, what can you do?

Well, on the plus side, they tend to be so involved in their own enthusiasms they probably don’t have too much time to spend with you. But if you run into them unexpectedly there are two possible strategies:

  • Pretend you haven’t seen/heard them and walk away quickly in the opposite direction.
  • If you can’t get away in time, look slightly mystified and when they’ve moved on tell your friends you’ve no idea who those strange people were.

Finally there does come a point where embarrassing parents become clinically interesting, which can be useful if you study psychology at university and need case studies. See, it’s not all bad.

A Rash Decision…

Wild animals are called wild for a reason – approach them at your peril. Alas, Jim thought he knew better.

Jim initially at a safe distance.

The Bear Facts

While wandering in the woods one day,

Young Jim observed a bear at play.          

Against a tree it scratched its back,

And looked too sleepy to attack –

Although a sign made danger clear:

BEWARE THE BEARS – DO NOT GO NEAR!

But reckless Jim did not think twice,

And heedless of that good advice,

Set out towards the grizzly bear,

Regardless of the danger there.

The details of what next befell

Are far too grim for me to tell,                 

But yes, the bear enjoyed a snack –

And foolish Jim did not come back.


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!

Problem Page: A Fishy Romance?

This week’s problem comes from a mermaid on the South Coast of England.

The young lady wishes to remain anonymous.

Dear Aunt Grizelda,

Every evening a young man comes down to fish in the cove where I live and I suspect he’s taken a fancy to me. At first he just kept glancing over to where I was sunning myself on the rocks, but now he throws me pieces of bait.

Yesterday evening he arrived in the cove with a surfboard and started paddling out towards me. I felt shy, so I dived deep below the waves, but now I wish I hadn’t. My friends say I shouldn’t trust him and that he probably wants to catch me for re-sale purposes. But he’s got a really nice smile, kind eyes, and the bait is delicious. Should I trust my gut feelings and let him get closer, or keep him at tail’s length?

Miss X

Dear Miss X,

Young men with nice smiles and kind eyes should never be trusted, but more importantly, have you seriously considered the problems inter-species relationships bring? A mermaid /human combination would be fraught with difficulties right from the start.

For example, how could he wine and dine you? If you went to a restaurant under the waves, he couldn’t eat because of his aqua lung; and if you went to a restaurant on land, the chef might mistake you for the fish course. Also his parents would be unlikely to welcome you as their daughter-in-law as humans will go to great lengths to avoid fishy aromas in the home and generally avoid getting their soft furnishings wet.

Reluctant as I am to pour cold water on this budding love affair, I cannot in all conscience recommend you to pursue it. Find a new cove in which to relax and remember there are always more fish in the sea.

Aunt Grizelda

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?

Problem Hair

Let’s be honest, do you know anyone who doesn’t have problem hair? Of course not, and that’s because hair has a will of its own. To get tresses that are manageable, you need to start being very firm with them at the soonest opportunity, otherwise they’ll take advantage of you, as they did with Bill.

Scary Hair

Bill was a boy with reckless hair,

That sprang out here and sprang out there.

It leapt and lunged, it streaked and swooped,

It coiled and curled and looped the loop.

It grew so thick, so long and wide,

That little creatures lived inside.

Bill’s hair providing a home for mouse and snake.

With tangled strands, wild as a bush,

It taunted every comb and brush

To try and tame it, make it neat –

The brushes soon declared defeat;

The combs’ attempts were also brief –

More than a dozen lost their teeth.

Its wayward mood rudely defied

Whatever products were applied,

And barbers wept that there should be

Defiant hair, so wild and free.

One barber cried, “Impudent mop!

You are not welcome in my shop!”

Poor Bill felt it was most unfair

To have such rowdy, wicked hair.

He threatened it and called it names,

He said it ought to feel ashamed.

But did it listen? Not a tad!

It carried on behaving mad,

And grew and grew like some deep wood,

Until Bill’s face was lost for good.

His arms were next and then his hands,

All hidden by the hair’s thick strands.

And further still the tresses grew,

Till legs and feet were lost from view,

And nothing could be seen at all

Except a boy sized, hairy ball.

His mum at last, out of despair,

Went running to the cellar where

She took a large electric saw,

And cut for several hours or more –

But not a trace was found of Bill;

And to this day, he’s missing still.

The lesson of this tale I’ve told

 Is keep your hair under control;

And thus ensure your crowning glory

Doesn’t turn to horror story.


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!