Oh, The Things Our Parents

(& Grandparents) Tell Us!

When I was a little girl I used to visit the River Gardens of my hometown of Derby with my Granddad  & Grandma Buckler. They were laid out with various plants and pools and it was a quiet and peaceful place to walk, much loved by locals and much missed by a city that now makes little of its riverside. But for me it was a place of terror. Not because I experienced any particular trauma while playing there, but because of something my well-meaning Granddad once told me.

It had all started out so innocently. One particularly notable feature of the River Gardens was a large sea mine which stood on the riverbank. It had been placed there years earlier as a way of raising funds for a seamen's charity. There was a small slot through which you could pop pennies and tuppences (we weren't being mean; this was 1972 when you could actually buy something - perhaps not very much - for tuppence!) and part of our ritual was for Granddad to lift me up so that I could put a few pennies in the slot. One day he decided to tease me. But I was three and had taken to heart the instruction to believe everything adults told me without question. So when he advised me, conspiratorially, that I should drop the penny very carefully into the slot for fear of setting off the mine, I believed every word. So much so that I was filled with terror every time I was called upon to pop in a penny. After all, I'd seen plenty of war films and knew precisely what would happen should the mine explode. So I would walk slowly, carefully, as silently as I could then gently, softly push the penny to the edge of the slot and only then, when I was certain all was well, would I let it drop into the mine. Then, quick as I could, I'd run to the relative safety of my Granddad's legs, hoping against hope that I had not set off the explosive. Fortunately, it never did. Yes, alright now I know it was a dud, but it was a very serious matter back then and my Granddad found the whole thing so amusing that he never bothered to tell me it had been a joke.

And it wasn't just me who was scarred by something like this. Once of my Dad's favourite stories is about the day he went with his mother to the corner shop to buy an indelible pencil. His mum told him not to lick it, or he would die (an understandable caveat, given that it contained quite toxic silver nitrate) but he was thrown into turmoil, and a sense of imminent expiration, when the shopkeeper joked that he 'would die if he didn't' (as we all will in time). Dad reckons it gave him a fright for a number of days. And all this makes me wonder whether we, as adults, rather than worrying so much about an occasional scraped knee from an unsupervised playground, might be better served by thinking a bit more carefully before joking with impressionable youngsters.

Of course not all of our parents jokes/lies are for their own amusement. Some of them are for our own good. Such as those intended to get us to eat food that's good for us, like greens. I've heard of many a child conned into eating Brussels sprouts after being told they were 'pixie cabbages', although I happen to think this is rather sweet, and I've always loved sprouts - little people fables aside. But sometimes this backfires. Many of my friends were told that, providing they eat their bread crusts, their hair would curl. All very sweet, you may think, but how about my experience? When it came to eating my crusts, my Granddad Buckler (and I bet you're detecting a pattern here) told me that doing so (in fact that eating anything that my mum would have thought good for me) would 'put hairs on my chest'. 

My Granddad Buckler whose tales of sea mine explosions put the fear of God into me.


Now, I know that at the time he didn't have any grandsons, so was probably in need of an outlet for his more boy-friendly phrases, but as a little girl I was horrified and vowed never to eat a crust again. Ever. Perhaps I simply had too big an imagination for my own good and I probably should have seen through some of the fallacies (calling them lies would seem a little harsh), but I truly believed that my parents, and grandparents, indeed all adults, always knew better than me. And that they always told the truth. So it wasn't until I was a little older (and the sea mine had yet to explode even when children more mentally sturdy than me clambered all over it) that I began to question some of those claims. Of course, I'd already reasoned the nonsense of some of them. Both my Mum and Dad would warn that, should the wind change direction while I was pulling a face, it would be stuck that way for life.


 And teachers would tell us that we'd get piles through sitting on radiators, while my Nana Rippon claimed the same of sitting on a cold step! And I seriously doubted my friend's claim that her mother said you should never swallow the seeds of an apple core for fear of an apple tree growing in your stomach. I wasn't quite so confident about another friend's father's assertion that swallowing chewing gum would result in it knotting around your appendix. After all, it was called 'chewing' gum, not swallowing gum!

I once saw an hilarious comedy set by Bradley Walsh about the stupid things parents say. 'Be careful, you'll put your sister's eye out with that!' and that sort of thing. Although I do know of at least one person to whom that did happen. Believe me, you don't want to know the details …

Of course, while most of the fallacies presented to us by our parents really are just to joke with us, a fair few are outright deliberate attempts to calm us, keep us in order or discipline us. And some of them are pretty shabby.There's that cruel one about the ice cream van's chime only going when the ice cream's run out. Or the one about the police coming if we cry too much. Or the bus conductor (yes, I am that old) kicking us off the bus if we don't behave. Although, when I was a child, I don't think anyone would have reported him if he had thrown off an unruly child!


My Nana Rippon's warnings about sitting on cold floors failed to stop me.

But, even though I have no kids of my own, I have to admit, I can see the logic in some of them, and the temptation to use them. When I was in primary school there was a rumour that, should a child say something particularly heinous (presumably answering back, or the like - we didn't curse back then at that age) then our headmistress would 'wash their mouths out with soap and water'. No-one was quite sure how true this was, since no-one knew anyone to whom this had actually happened, but the thought, and the threat was there and, presumably, the teachers saw no reason to dispel this particular myth. Assuming it was a myth …