As I write this, I’m listening to the March winds blustering and howling in the trees outside, and thinking that the month’s reputation as a windy one is justified.
There is plenty of folklore surrounding wind, which is understandable when you think that our distant ancestors needed to find some explanation for this invisible weather phenomenon. They would have had no idea of the origins of a force that could gently dry their washing one day, then destroy their homes the next.
Obviously, wind was an extremely important source of energy in the days before motorisation, and early explorers of the high seas had a number of charms they used to summon it when needed. You’ve probably heard of whistling down the wind (which now refers to something being done fruitlessly), but woe betide you if you were caught whistling on a boat at any other time, as you risked attracting a hurricane.
Witches used to ‘sell’ wind to sailors. They would give them a piece of string with three knots tied in it to take on board, and when wind was required, they’d undo one of the knots. But they always hoped to not have to reach the last knot, as untying that would summon a gale.
In his column from 24th March 1979, Dad recalls parents telling their children that if they pulled a face when the east wind was blowing, the ugly expression would be fixed there forever.
It made me think back to other things that our parents, especially our mothers, would tell us to scare us into doing what we were told. One was if you sat too near to the TV you’d get square eyes, or if you looked at the sun while cross-eyed, you’d stay like that. Another was that if we swallowed our chewing gum, it would stay in our stomachs forever, and of course, if you eat your carrots, you’ll be able to see in the dark. I’ve eaten plenty of carrots over the years, but can’t say that I ever noticed an improvement.
There’s a whole host of sayings which, pre-parenthood, you swear never to use yourself. Then along come your children, and before you know it they’re tumbling out of your mouth like marbles down a hill. It’s a cycle that will never be broken, words and phrases we pass from generation to generation, because in the heat of an argument with your child, when they are pushing you to the outer extremes of your patience with never-ending cries of “But why?” or “It’s not fair!”, being able to pluck that ready-made conversation-ending logic out of the air is a blessing.
Think back to how many times your mum or dad said “Because I said so!” or “Life isn’t fair” after one of your teen tantrums. It’s only when you’re a parent yourself on the receiving end of such a tantrum, and after you’ve exhausted all your reasons for refusing whatever the request was, that you then understand why “Because I said so!” comes so easily to the lips.
I’ve lost count of how many times over the years I’ve informed my sons of the poor starving children in various nations who would be so grateful to have a plateful of broccoli and green beans, or asked them, “How do you know you don’t like it if you don’t even try it?”
Another phrase I carried with me from childhood, was “Don’t speak with your mouth full” and that regularly echoes around our dinner table. But I’ve just thought of one that I don’t use now, but was told as a child, and that is “Don’t put your elbows on the table.” I’m not sure why you shouldn’t do that, apart from the fact it was just seen as bad manners. But our table is often the scene of lengthy after-dinner chats, and it’s natural to lean on your elbows while listening. I still wouldn’t put them on the table while others are eating though (well, not if my mum is looking anyway).
When I was little, I was self-conscious of the hairs on my forearms, until I was told that having hairy arms meant that you were strong. To this day, I have a reputation on the tennis court for hitting the ball rather hard, so I think of all of them, that one must be true.
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