Friday, 9 July 2010

That's me, sweating like a pig

There I was, sitting in the garden, under a steaming sun, with sweat absolutely pouring out of me. And it struck me: "Ladies do not sweat: they glow or at worst, perspire".

I was doubtless glowing, but evidently not from anything as ladylike as 'perspiring'. No, this was sweat.

That was a quote of my mother's. She seemed to have an obsession about how 'ladies' behaved; about ideas of what constituted 'ladylike' behaviour. I say "seemed", because I'm too old now to be subjected to it any more – if indeed she still maintains the obsession.

My mother was always obsessed with such appearances. She was – again, I'm not subjected to it any more, so she may have changed – but she was a dreadful snob. And it wasn't a snobbery based on any achievements – real or otherwise – but purely on her own sense of her station in life.

Her father had started off as an office boy, but had worked himself up to be the boss of a steel company. Her mother had been a teacher. But her mother was a snob too and she inherited that sense of class: once they'd risen to something that they could perceive to be middle class, then they were going to prove just how middle class they really were.

When I went to Fairfield – the only child from my town, that year, to go to that school – one of the first things she asked me about a new friend was what her father did for a living. He was an ambulance driver. That drew forth a warning about my responsibility to my father to have appropriate acquaintances.

She never seemed to have seen the irony of such comments – that my father came from a tiny backwater in Cornwall, the son of a roadmender and a barmaid, who'd had to have elocution lessons so that any congregation outside of the south west could understand him. He was exactly the sort of person that she now considered as inappropriate as a parent of a friend.

You'd have thought that, if she was so concerned about class and her social station, she'd have got herself hitched to a Church of England vicar with the ambition and opportunity to gain a bishopric. Instead of which, she pinned her hopes on a rebellious Methodist, who could never keep the church hierarchy happy, and whose financial dealings left us perennially short of cash.

Not that my mother's comments about my new schoolfriend was the only time that I can remember her on such a theme. She once famously informed my sister and I that we could not behave as 'normal' children did, since as the minister's daughters, we were looked to by other children and their parents to set an example.

Which, now I think about it, is close to vomit-inducing. I concluded, a rather long time ago, that we were as much accessories to my father's work as we were children.

If my father himself didn't have the same class snobbery, he certainly viewed his family as subservient to his work – his 'calling', once should say. And very much in the accessory mold – what we said and did reflected on him, he made quite sure we knew.

I got into huge trouble once, when he carted me off to some church to give my 'testimony' – a little speech about how I'd accepted Christ into my life etc etc. I was in my early to mid teens, I suppose. My parents had apparently been delighted when I'd been 'born again' at pretty much the last of a lengthy series of evangelical rallies in the area. But his delight was nothing when my little oration contained – completely unconsciously – words that apparently showed him in a bad light as a preacher. I was on the receiving end of a remarkably un-Christian tongue lashing over that little episode.

Sometimes, looking back, I think it was like being brought up in the 1920s or '30s. It certainly bore little relation to the 1960s and '70s. That and then the cotton wool.

It's rather amusing to think how – eventually at least – it was all to no avail. Ultimately, they lost.

Anyway, decent weather is forecast for the coming weekend. So I shall enjoy sitting outside, nose in a book. And having a damned good sweat again.

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