|Robert Mitchum as athe creepy "priest" in Night of the Hunter.|
|Mitchum and Simmons with Preminger|
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|Robert Mitchum as athe creepy "priest" in Night of the Hunter.|
|Mitchum and Simmons with Preminger|
THERE I was walking down the street, my feet on the pavement but my head in the clouds. Coming in the other direction was a woman in very much the same frame of mind - and we collided. There followed one of those typically British conversations.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“No it was my fault.”
“No mine. I was miles away.”
And we smiled at each other and went our separate ways.
How typically Devonian, I thought. For my friends from distant lands, Devon is a predominantly rural county in the South West of England. We are mainly a laidback, friendly people and among the politest on the planet.
I have rarely encountered bad manners in the county and I’m speaking as someone who worked at the coalface of local newspapers for many years. Very rarely was anyone rude to me, not even the man in court for fairly heinous offences who phoned to ask me to keep his case out of the paper. I told him that wasn’t possible and his response was, “Not even if I say please?” He was obviously well brought up in one respect, if not in others.
I like it that Devonians are mainly polite. I can't pretend that there aren't plenty of rude and thoughtless Devonians as well, unfortunately, but for most of us, politeness is a way of life. It’s not even a generation thing. All the children I know are taught to say "please" and "thank you" and to look after elderly relatives - well, at least my kind and caring young relatives do... and manage to look pleased as they do so!
Politeness can go too far, of course. I do suffer a bit from the kind of politeness which when asked by the hairdresser if everything is OK, I reply: “Lovely, thank you,” and then go home to cry and cover all the mirrors.
Have you been given a gift you don’t like? “Thank you so much,” you say, “That’s, um, interesting,” when what you really mean is, “I wouldn’t use it in public if my life depended upon it.”
As my mother often told me, “Good manners cost nothing,” and politeness oils the wheels of human interaction.
As the anonymity of the internet brings out the worst in some people, causing trolls to crawl out from under their stones to spout their vitriol, we should consider what writer Robert A Heinlein said: “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”
Thank you for reading this post and I hope you liked it. But no worries if you didn't, it's perfectly fine. I will leave you with this thought from Theodore Roosevelt.
Politeness is a sign of dignity, not subservience.
She left us with a lifetime of happy memories. I hardly know where to begin to explain the joy of being my mother's daughter, for her defining quality was her sense of humour. Then there was her amazing generosity, her kindness and her unconditional love and support.
There are so many family stories about mum that I was spoilt for choice when writing this. Like the day Specsavers did a home visit to test her eyes. Poor man. She started reading the card, got to a letter she couldn't see and asked me what it was! Not really the point of an eye test, mum! Then when it came to picking a new frame, she put the glasses on and said crossly: "I can't see any better with them at all!" The man patiently explained that she was just picking frames and the lenses weren't in yet!
If her eyesight wasn't good, her hearing was worse. She had two hearing aids - not that they helped much as they were always in a drawer in her bedroom. You could never quite pitch your tone at the right level. Speak too quietly and she'd tell you off for "mumbling"; talk too loudly and she'd indignantly say: "I'm not deaf you know!"
My late father trained a few racehorses and mum loved gambling! Every week she did a 50p "patent" which is a bet with three horses. She rarely won anything, her method of choosing horses often dictated by family names. No matter if the horse was 100-1, if it included a name of one of her children, on would go her money and that would be the last she'd see of it.
There were all the family games including cricket in the imaginatively named Big Field with a five gallon drum as a wicket - and the day mum threw the cricket ball for dad to catch and it hit his nose which bled for hours - she was never allowed to forget that one. We played lots of card games and when we played partner whist we all wanted mum as a partner because Dad, not exactly known for his patience, would be furious if you dared forget the Queen of Hearts, or whatever, had already been played.
She was a hardy soul and she brought us up to be tough and uncomplaining. If you hurt yourself out playing there was no point in trying for the sympathy vote. Mum's reaction would always be a scathing "That's nothing!" If both your feet were facing the right way, there was obviously nothing wrong with you. If you did merit some kind of treatment, it was always the liberal application of that cure-all, Germolene.
Mum loved shopping, although there was the time she and my aunt got on the bus in their village at some ungodly hour in the morning for a long trip to an out-of-town retail outlet and didn't get home until evening. Mum had felt sick on the bus, they were bored to tears after an hour and the sum total of their day's shopping consisted of a six-pack of socks for my uncle. "I don't think I'll be bothering with bus trips again," said Mum drily.
Whenever she couldn't get out and about much anymore she turned to shopping via Betterware, Kleeneze and Avon, which is why her sons have a selection of strange plastic items and her daughters plenty of bright blue eyeshadow. It's how one of her young friends who happened to mention he liked tea became the proud owner of a teabag squeezer while still at primary school. If anyone needs any spider repellent or shower head cleaner, see me. I’ve got cans of the stuff.
She lived with my brother who worked nights every other week. When got to to her 90s, my sisters and I took it in turns to stay the night because we didn't want her home alone. If you were unlucky you drew the Monday straw because Mum was an avid soaps fan. You had to put up with Emmerdale, followed by Coronation Street followed by EastEnders and then, darn me, back to another episode of Coronation Street. We soon learned not to ask her anything about what was going on because that would necessitate a garbled half hour explanation of the plot.
I could go on all day about her funny little sayings, about all the thoughtful, wonderful things she did for us all but I'll stop there. So, Mum, happy 100th birthday and as it's Saturday, I'll have a bet on your behalf!
* For all my friends from abroad who may not know, the Queen sends a congratulatory message to those celebrating their 100th and 105th birthday and every year after, and also to couples celebrating their 60th, 65th and 70th wedding anniversaries and every subsequent year.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. I'm sitting waiting in expectation for jewellery, red roses and chocolates in a heart-shaped box. Sadly, I know I'm waiting in vain. Here's an excerpt from a column I wrote for Devon Life magazine a few years back which will explain all.
Be My Valentine
I HOPE you’re all prepared for Valentine’s Day with tables booked, gifts wrapped and a suitably romantic card featuring hearts, flowers and loving verses.
Personally, I don’t worry about Valentine’s Day very much, romance being so far off the dearly beloved’s radar that it is practically in Deep Space Nine.
If I’m lucky I’ll get a bunch of flowers bought from our local service station. If I’m even luckier, he will drive straight home with them rather than leave them bouncing about in the back of his car for hours while he’s driving about for work.
For my part, I will buy him something like a bottle of aftershave knowing he would be happier with a pint or two of Pheasant Plucker real ale. I will get a card and write “from your secret admirer” inside and leave it on the doormat, as if there’s a chance he won’t know who it’s from. He will feign surprise and speculate it’s from a gorgeous girl he met in the pub. I will invariably reply: “I hope you remembered to give her back her white stick.”
If I’ve forgotten to buy a card I will find the one I sent him last year and put it in a new envelope. He’s never noticed. Oh yes, hours of Valentine’s Day fun in our house!
When we first met it was all so different. He booked a table at a romantic Devon restaurant where we exchanged loving glances over chicken in a basket and pledged our undying love over peach melba. In those days flowers came via Interflora, not Texaco.
Still, after more than 30 years together he might be forgiven for allowing the gloss to wear off what some people consider the most romantic day of the year. If hearts and flowers aren’t his forte, he has many more important qualities like loyalty, support and the ability to make me laugh every day.
In any case, the origins of Valentine’s Day are violent and bloody rather than romantic. This is one version I read on the internet (so it’s BOUND to be true…). Valentine was a physician and priest who lived in Rome in the third century. At the time it was illegal for young men to marry because Emperor Claudius II wanted his men to be psyched up for battle rather than worried about their families back home. It’s difficult to concentrate on slinging that spear accurately if you’re concerned wife Agrippina may not have enough denarii to pay the candle merchant.
Valentine took a dim view of the wedding ban and married young couples in secret. He was caught and thrown into prison, tortured and beheaded.
This legend may or may not be true - there are several other versions of the story and several other contenders for the title of St Valentine.
Like many other festivals it was probably the weaving together of the legend of the Christian St Valentine and the pagan feast of Lupercalia. During Lupercalia young women wrote their names on slips of paper and put them in a pot. The men would then each draw out a name and court the woman - a bit like modern online dating, I suppose. Altogether more disturbing was the practice of lashing young women with a leather whip during Lupercalia in the belief it would make girls more fertile.
Of course there are many people who have no “valentine” at all. Some are very happy with this state of affairs while others yearn for that special someone with whom to share their life. The more cynical among us have labelled Valentine’s Day a commercial trick played on us by card shops and florists and the even more cynical call it Singles Awareness Day.
Well, I hope you all get at least a card, even if it is last year’s recycled. I also hope it has a loving message, just like the one my friend received from her doctor boyfriend. It said: “You make my heart have premature ventricular contractions.” Now that’s what I call romance.
Before you leave:
Maybe that's the trouble. Christmas starts so early these days I become immune to its blandishments. The better half is better prepared than I am. He has been practising for Christmas for weeks now by wandering around the kitchen with a bottle of beer in one hand, a box of Cadbury's Roses in the other and getting in my way.
Still, over the years I have managed to get Christmas down to a fine art. I have pared down the festivities and streamlined the present conveyor belt so that it's not quite the faff it was. In our first Christmas together in our new house - many, many years ago - I decked our walls with boughs of holly, plus miles of streamers and tinsel. Every surface was covered with some sparkly festive ornament, from bowls of gold pebbles and pine cones to Christmas candles and miniature Santas. The tree was a work of art - a real one, naturally, so covered with gewgaws and baubles that it may as well have been artificial as not a green bough was to be seen.
I, in my innocence, was delighted with the Santa's grotto ambiance - until January 6 when I had to take the whole blooming lot down again.
As for presents, the better half and I both come from big families and have quite a few young nephews and nieces between us. Lovely though they are and very polite, I could see that as they hit 13, the picture books and toy cars weren't quite going to cut it. They are invariably saving up for some piece of electronic gadgetry so a donation to the coffers is now always appreciated.
The better half and I are not exactly Mr and Mrs Romantic when it comes to gifts. We usually decide on something we both want and buy it in the January sales, which is how we got our television, tumbledrier and wooden floor in the sitting-room. Told you, pragmatic.
So I'm about to get started on the Christmas preparations and write my own list. I have already written my letter to Father Christmas.
Dear Santa, please may I have a fat bank account and a slim body. Please don't get them muddled up like you did last year.
Tyre-fitter - or tire-fitter as my American friends write.