Ma’s always had a way with words. She was a reader and great doer of crosswords. If she had a spare moment her nose would be stuck in a book. Growing up she’d have us kids confused or in stitches with her various sayings.
I had curly hair as a kid and whenever I was naughty, which was quite often, Ma would start reciting, “There was a little girl, that had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very very good… And when she was bad she was horrid!”. This would always make me cranky!!! If we pulled a face we were told if the wind changed our faces would stay like that (I was always afraid of that one).
One of my favourites was, “up in nanny’s room behind the clock”, which she used whenever we wanted to know the location of something that she didn’t want us to know. If she didn’t want us to know where she was going… or was just being contrary, she’d respond with “I’m going there and back again to see how far it is.” There was also the “wigwam for a goose’s bridle” in response to us asking what something was… again used if it was something she didn’t want us to know.
Kids being kids, we were always getting into things we shouldn’t and Ma was always finding us out to our complete astonishment (us thinking we were so clever). When we asked how she knew, she’d always tell us, “because I’ve got eyes in the back of my head”. My sister one day decided to find out whether this was true and checked the back of Ma’s head very thoroughly. I think she was very disappointed when she couldn’t find anything. If we were being particularly painful (which was probably often) and asking why?… but why?… why? She’d respond with, “because ‘Y’ is a crooked letter and you can’t straighten it!”
If Ma was making a phone call to somebody she knew well she’d announce herself with: “It’s only me from over the sea’, said Barnacle Bill the sailor” or “is that you, because this is me” followed by a laugh. To describe somebody who was very happy, she’d say they were “as happy as Larry”… I never did find out who Larry was or “Billy Johnson’s black pig” for that matter.
I always remember Ma reciting a rhyme about Thor, “The Thunder God went for a ride, upon his favourite filly. “I’m Thor!”, he cried. The horse replied, “You forgot your thaddle, thilly!” This would cause me untold glee.
But my favourite saying of hers would have to be “better an empty house than a bad tenant!” in response to a belch… or we’d get, “beg your pardon Mrs Arden, there’s a chicken in your garden”.
I know this is about Ma but I couldn’t not write about my Aunty, who we always thought was the very epitome of a lady, describing somebody as the ‘town bicycle’! (I’ll let you work it out).
These sayings I treasure because they remind me of Ma and my childhood. She still uses some of them to this day. I thought I’d make an attempt to capture them before they get lost. She has also coined a few new ones in recent times which I’ll cover in Part two.