Back when I was but a mere snip of a thing, I would make my parents a cup of tea most mornings. It probably tasted vile, but this, for me, was an early way of helping out. For my mum had a brood of five, which must have been mind-bending. I have two and my mind is well and truly bent out of shape all of the time.
I suspect my desire to be useful started during my stint in the Brownies. Even though I never made ‘Sixer’ (I was robbed). I don’t know which part of ‘Brownying’ put it into my head that helping my mum out would be A GOOD THING. Whether she liked it or not.
I was, for a time, the household ironer. I’d iron anything, from sheets and pillowcases to my dad’s handkerchiefs. I think I ironed his Y-fronts once or twice, too. I made puddings for our Sunday roast (my eclairs were legendary) and Vesta Beef Curry for tea if mum was too busy to whip up her usual, liver and bacon. I made perfume out of rose petals in a plastic washing up bowl, and tried to raise household funds by selling this to our neighbours. I was very useful.
I peaked one Christmas when my brother Malc and I decided to take the load off mum for Christmas dinner. She was sceptical, but we proudly managed to get it all done and served up on time. And the Brussels sprouts weren’t cooked all to mush. However, halfway through the dinner, Malc went to the kitchen to get the peas, which we’d forgotten. He came back and asked if I wouldn’t mind checking something. In fact, the kitchen was filled with black smoke. Malc, I’ll blame him, had left the bone-handled fork in the turkey when he’d put it back into the gas oven, and it had caught on fire. Suddenly there was mum, stood in the doorway, arms crossed, a smug ‘I-knew-you-wouldn’t-manage-it’ look on her face. Well, at least we tried.
I’m wondering where I have gone wrong with my own children. If I ask them to help, it’s big deal. Even though the chores are minimal – emptying the dishwasher, sorting the plastics for recycling, stripping their beds, remembering to bring the bins in. Walking the dogs seems to be a demand beyond belief. Hey, that used to be the ultimate pleasure for me, escaping the madhouse of my four brothers for a walk with Hawker Siddeley Vicious Smith (also known as Syd) along a stinky stream that often had shopping trolleys living in it.
And I can’t remember the last time one of the kids brought me a cuppa in bed.
Kids these days. They don’t know they’re born.