Lynne Mortimer - If the wind changes, Lynne, you’ll stay like that... and I did

Lynne Mortimer

Lynne Mortimer - Credit: Archant

If the wind changes, you’ll stay like that, Lynne Mortimer recalls the words of her Norfolk nanna.

These words of wisdom were handed down to my Suffolk mum and impressed upon me.

It was invoked whenever I pulled a face. In retrospect it was a bit unfair because when you’re also told “children should be seen and not heard” there is little to do except pull faces. I would try them out in front of a mirror so, if the wind did change and I did stay like that, it wouldn’t be too terrible I just about got away with it, I think.

Manifestations of childishness were discouraged, closed down and sat on hard when I was a kid. In the Fifties, grown-ups ruled. Ideally I would have liked to have been heard but resorted to making sure I was seen by fidgeting. By the age of five I was an experienced fidgeter. At afternoon tea with my great grandmother or with the two sisters who lived in the bungalow at the end of the row I would often be asked if I had worms.

They would try and ignore me as I wriggled, my face impassive in case of a sudden change from the prevailing south-westerlies. Eventually, they could take no more:

“Do you need to go to the toilet, Lynne?”

“Yes,” I would lie, just to be allowed to get away from the polite tea-time conversation which, in retrospect, was probably quite scurrilous as the women would mouth words to one another and make oblique references to nocturnal goings-on involving the woman next-door-but-one whose husband was a travelling salesman and away during the week.

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In the relative freedom of the bathroom, I would inspect the toiletries and pot plants. It was not unknown for me to emerge with a cactus spine in my finger.

“How did you do that, Lynne?”

“I only touched it.”

“Sit down and eat your rusk.” There was never enough butter on them.

Occasionally, I would hum a tune.

“Sing at the table; die in the workhouse,” my nanna would pronounce tartly. My fate was sealed... even though I wasn’t sure what it entailed. In the film Oliver! the children are all at the tables in the workhouse when they sing Food Glorious Food so that was prophetic, I guess.

“Don’t do as I do, do as I say,” made me long to be older... so I stored away that naughty word my uncle used, determined to try it out at school. When, proudly, I used it in the playground at morning break, the other children knew it already but, taking pity on me, gave me a few much worse ones and recommended I try them out on my mum.

That was when I got the ultimate: “If I hear you say that again, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap and water.

Then there was: “Eat your crusts, there are children starving” and the catch-all: “Because I said so.” This is the only one that tempts me when George and I have a “what shall we do?” conversation.

“Grandma, can I get the Play Doh out, please.”

“Not today, George.” (I’d only just finished picking the last batch of dry nuggets out of the wool pile carpet)

“Can we go to the museum?”

“Not today.”

“Why?”

This is the point where I have to consider carefully what I say next. The truthful answer would be: “Well, George, the last time we went there, you thundered around the entire museum in less than 10 minutes and then wanted to go and buy something in the shop.” Obviously, I don’t say that. An interest in antiquities (like grandparents), however fleeting, must be encouraged.

“Because we are going somewhere else today.”

“Is it the seaside?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because we have to go shopping.”

It is sad to see a three-year-old’s excitement wither on the vine.

“Then can we go to the seaside?”

“No, (anticipating next question) because it’s not really warm enough to sit on the beach.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s raining and the sun isn’t out?”

“Why?”

“Because it’s July and we’re in England? Shall we get the Play Doh out?” I said with a grimace.

And then the wind changed.