blog 15: In which I talk about the things we say

When we were young if ever my brother and sisters and I asked for something that our mother Elsie considered ‘over the top’ she would chastise us by saying, “You want portholes in your coffin!”

For example:

“Mum can I have a some stale crust to go with my bowl of steam?”
“You want portholes in your coffin!”

“Mum will you buy me a piece of string for my birthday?”
“You want portholes in your coffin!”

My mother had quite a few of these stock responses.

If she was finding us particularly galling and annoying she would hit us with one or other of these two dire warnings, “You’ll be laughing on the other side of your faces soon!” or “Someday the shoe will be on the other foot!”

At least she did, until the glorious day arrived when she got so angry and flustered that she came out with, “You’ll be laughing on the other side of your foot one day!” This of course resulted in much hilarity and Mum was never able to use either expression again without someone quoting her mistake back at her.

For me, mum’s most irritating stock response was the one she often gave when you asked her a question.

“Mum why can’t I stay up and watch The Twilight Zone?”
“Because Y is a crooked letter and you can never make it straight.”

“Mum in a triangle, why is the square on the hypotenuse equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides?”
“Because Y is a crooked letter and you can never make it straight.”

“Mum why do bad things happen to good people?”
“Because Y is a crooked letter and you can never make it straight.”

Thanks Mum. I just knew there had to be a perfectly logical explanation for all those mysteries!

Sadly I tried to apply my Mother’s wisdom in a Science exam at school one day.

QUESTION 12. Why do different liquids have different boiling points?
ANSWER: Well I’m not sure on all the specific scientific theory behind it but according to my mother it’s because Y is a crooked letter and you can never make it straight.

(Here’s a tip to any students out there – you get no reward for attempting to be funny in a Science exam.)

My mother actually had quite an arsenal of responses especially designed for deflecting questions.

“Mum what are you making?”
“A wig-wam for a goose’s bridle.”
“Really? Looks just like a cake.”

“Mum why do girls have different bits to boys?”
“That’s for me to know and for you to find out.”

Of course with my mother being such a tremendous font of information and my father only being around at Christmas, it’s little wonder I grew up knowing next to nothing.

These days Adrie and I also have our own stock responses.

For example if one of us has been away – perhaps at work or down to the shop or maybe even just in the next room – and we return, the other one will invariably say, “So, you came crawling back then?”

I don’t know how or why this started, but there is some strange satisfaction to be derived from  sneering at your partner when they return from the toilet and declaring self-righteously, “Hah! So you came crawling back then!” Try it. I highly recommend it.

Some of our stock responses come from movies and TV.

For example if I were to tell Adrie that I love her, then 9 times out of 10 her reply would be, “And I tolerate you.” This is just one of dozens of lines that are often repeated at our house from the hilarious Lano and Woodley TV series.

Oh and just in case you’re interested Adrie’s 10th response to my declaration of love usually is, “Of course you do. I’m adorable! (And Dimity if you’re reading this, she is not funny and she should not be encouraged.)

I get my own back by quoting a Lloyd Bridges line from Flying High.

Ard: Mike, don’t you think you should give the lawn a mow?
Me: No. That just what they’d expect me to do!

But there was one particular line Ard and I always used to look forward to quoting.

It came from a children’s picture book called Bruno’s Band. The book was a family favourite. (Which is really saying something because the main character is a cat and Ard and I aren’t exactly cat people. Sorry cat people.)

Anyway in the story Bruno the cat lives with a family who run a cafe. But Bruno longs to see the world and experience another kind of life. So he heads off and has adventures and meets fellow travellers and fellow musicians along the way (if I remember rightly Bruno plays the fiddle) and they form a band  out on the road. Then, when Bruno eventually tires of travelling he returns home with his new friends only to realise that this is where he should be. The final image is of Bruno and his band playing in the cafe with people laughing and sharing good food and good cheer around him.

The story ends with: “This is the life,” said Bruno. “There is no better life than this.”

Back when Ard and I were both teachers, and it was finally December and the stress and busy-ness of another hectic school year was over at last, we would smile and quote those lines to each other. Often at the time, we would be lazing with the kids  in a resort pool somewhere on the Gold or Sunshine Coast with the Christmas holidays stretching out before us.

Sometimes like Bruno, it pays to sit back and think about what you’ve got and the good things in your life. I know that whenever I do, I feel very fortunate indeed.

Of course if I could have portholes in my coffin, then everything would be perfect!


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12 Responses to blog 15: In which I talk about the things we say

  1. You know I meant ‘cook’ the noodles in?! Delivery was never my strong point!


  2. Oh but Michael I feel duty bound…here’s another for her (your wife not mother) I use lines from the Castle quite often at feeding times to deflect the obvious for my lot. When sitting down to dinner, himself will ask “Whadda you call this dal?”
    “Mmm. Nice noodles. Whadda you could the noodles in?”
    “The saucepan.”


  3. My Mum’s favourite response to a whine about wanting to go somewhere or do something different was always, ‘Your time will come.’ I’m still waiting. She also used, ‘Y is a crooked letter and Z is no better’. But the one I remember most was, ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’ This was used whenever we expressed an opposite opinion to anything she said. She died a few years ago at 96. I still miss her.


  4. Sherryl says:

    Oh my goodness, this brought back memories. If we asked Mum how old she was, she’d say, “As old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth.”
    And sometimes when we were driving her mad she’d say, “One of these days I’m going to run off screaming into the bush and never come back.”
    Her favourite to me was “Stop creating” (as in stop going on like a pork chop) but just as well for me this one misfired!


  5. Laughing my head off, Michael! Plonk! tumble tumble.
    I remember some of those from your mother – she must’ve been having cups of tea with mine and sharing notes.
    Mum’s favourite response to Why? was ‘Because Y is a crooked letter and Zeds no better.’ There’s absolutely no come back to that! 🙂


  6. Michael Matthews says:

    Ah Mums, were would we be without them…well we wouldnt be here thats for sure.
    My mum used to have some classisc sayings too. I guess after having 9 children her patience must have begun to wear thin. One of the best lines I can remember from her if we complained that we had nothing to do was “Go and plait poop!”
    When she was really frustrated, she would say “Poop, bugger, shit, bum !” This was one of my favourites and I would laugh every time she said it.
    She used to say to me, when I was very young, “Who do you think you are, King Dick?” Apparently I got that used to this expression that I actually cried when my brothers and sisters refused to call me King Dick.
    I have my mother to thank for my sarcasm and sick sense of humour. It was my mother who introduced me to Limericks and i remember a book full of them that she used to share with us that would have us in stitches for hours.
    Love you mum 🙂


    • mgbauer says:

      With 9 kids a mum earns the right to say whatever she wants! Do you still long to be called King Dick Michael? Your mum sounds great.


      • Michael Matthews says:

        I must admit, being the fifth child of nine, I did suffer middle child syndrome but I got over the Kind Dick thing. Its interesting because I used to ask one of my sons if he thought he was Little Lord Fauntleroy..he obviously didnt have a clue who i was talking about. I have a lot of respect for my mum, raising nine kids is no mean feat and I am suprised that she has remained as sane as she is. She is a remarkable woman who, at age 77, uses Facebook to keep in touch with her kids and grandkids and has even tried planking !
        Go the mums !


  7. Sorry, but portholes in a coffin just put me in mind of a worm buffet =\


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