Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What a load of crumbs, fudge buckets and bunnies

When I was blissfully growing up in a small country town in the 1970s and mid 1980s, I never once heard my mother swear.

Lord knows she had many reasons to, mostly due to us three kids. Our hobbies tended to be whining, teasing and fighting each other. If it wasn't for my brothers, I would not have known how to defend myself from school-yard bullies with well-placed and timely henpecks, dead legs and chinese burns. At home, we regularly flung ourselves furiously at each other: so often that Mum would continue chopping at the vegetables, saying vaguely into the ether, "You should stop that, or somebody might get hurt...." Her strict methodist upbringing continued to work its magic on her and she avoided the easy temptation to let us know just what dreadful little sh**s we really were.

It is only now, being a mother of just one child myself, that I can truly admire her self control. On one fine Saturday after the end of the movie matinee on the telly, David decided that hammering the brick and cement water tank-stand wasn't fulfilling enough and proceeded to smash through the glass in our front door. He may have been small for his age and prone to regular asthma attacks that rendered him allergic to housework and chores, but boy did he run fast when Mum flew out of the house armed with a wooden spoon. Round and round the silver birch tree they went, Dave's eyes nearly popping out of their little sockets with terror and Mum getting angrier and angrier and struggling to keep yelling and hold her breath.

What expletives was she uttering during this burst of free exercise? "Come here you....B-L-E-S-S-E-D LITTLE CHILD" over and over. For many years, I thought 'blessed' was akin to Bloody F***ing Satan Spawn until I finally paid attention in Sunday School and realised it was something that Jesus - and our Minister - used in a nice way.

Like farting in the car on long trips and blaming them on whichever one of us kids was sleeping at the time, my mother had ways of saying very naughty things without ever uttering anything that was officially a curse word. "Ooooh Bunnies" was another frequently used word, normally when she had to unpick some sewing or her little cakes didn't turn out. Following her example, I adopted the word, "Bucko", from Richie Cunningham in 'Happy Days', saying stuff to Robert like, "If you don't stop bragging, Bucko, I'm going to hit you over the head with the Monopoly bank." For some reason, Mum took exception to this, and rushed over to scold me. The act of thwacking Rob over the scone with a hard plastic container that left him crying and paper money fluttering all around the room didn't seem to bother her.

Even our toilet training and subsequent referrals to the subject of ablutions were kept pristine, language wise, if also rather peculiar. My folks swear that these were the words invented by Robert when he was not quite two, and were then used by the family from then on to avoid the very disgusting Wee and Poo words. Are you ready for them - Wettings for wees and Dirties for poos. There are times when I regress and have accidentally said them out loud to my own daughter.

If any of us children ever swore, we showed no loyalty to each other at all, instead rushing to dob to Mum. Until the age of six, the worst swear word in the world that my sheltered little mind could summon up was Stink Pot. I used to lie under my stripey bedsheets and utter it out loud to myself like a mantra, feeling thrillingly sinful.

In desperation, we often resorted to giggling over the potential sounds of innocent words as curses. Orange pith was the source of a great deal of cheap merriment for me. "Hey Dave, can you take the pith off," knowing that he had no real reason to get me into trouble. "Why don't you go jump off the poop deck," another favourite. The delicious word, 'buttocks' was a delight - it was very early abbreviated to "Shift your tocks, turkey."

Mum was still easy to run a few not-so-polite phrases over due to her own ignorance. It was only when she announced that "These broad peans taste poxy" in front of Dad that she realised it was not particularly wise to incorporate her children's words as her own. You see Dad was a high school teacher and there was no buzzword or disrespectful saying that he wasn't already aware of. There were no Shut Ups, Hells, Damns or even a Rack Off. I guess he'd heard enough of that crap (see what I did there?) all day at school and didn't need the 'aural pollution' (his words) at home.

There was one phrase that, in hindsight, was pretty rude, but was allowed to used with gay abandon in our home. My grandmother, a very strict Methodist, non-drinking, church stalwart and always-refined lady, used to say, "Stop fiddle arseing around and get back to work..." Fiddle Arseing? How can that be better than Bugger Off, Bum or Stink Pot?

It remains a mystery to this day. I'm relieved to advise you that my folks have relaxed their language standards a great deal. Sometimes disturbingly so. It still takes quite some getting used to when I hear my mum say indignantly, "That driver is right up my bloody arse," when she's behind the wheel of her commodore, battling the huge 3 car traffic jam down the main street of Victor Harbor. The profanity just doesn't go with the coral red lippy, matching string of beads, silk shirt and rockport loafers. Perhaps that's a good thing: that at the age of 65 she's capable of shocking her daughter instead of the other way 'round.


fifi-belle said...

I got addicted to swearing like a trooper aged about 5, when I realised how much it annoyed my mother! Now I have never really been able to stop. Now, mum tries to be cool (I think) by swearing too. The other day she described the carpet I was going to buy as a head f***! I was really shocked, I agree it's traumatic when mothers swear. I have never heard my father swear, ever. Instead, he has the great ability to say phrases like 'Oh, for goodness' sake' with a vicious snarl that makes the expression sound like the most foul expletive in the world. He usually does this in the car. I'm sure he scares the other drivers. There must be a lot of people driving around Sydney who have never heard the word 'drongo' and think it's one of the worst words in the English language.

Anonymous said...

Fiddle Arseing - rude? No way.
How about Fugger?

fifi-belle said...

Fiddle arseing is so rude. It's got arse in it. And fiddling. That's two rude concepts. Rude rude rude! Milly you should be ashamed of yourself for putting that word in your blog.