Like everything my parents had thrown at me over the years, nothing was worse than to get a piece of paper handed to me as I walked out the door; to a meeting, a date, school, even when I visited my grandmother.
They were the ‘do’s and dont’s’ lists, which over time became the ‘young man’s guide to better English and speaking properly’.
The truth was, my mother never trusted me to get it right.
It was not without reason. Very early on I got a reputation for being a bit of a maverick, saying what I thought rather than what was diplomatic, or just the right thing to say.
To a certain extent, I learned a great deal from these notes.
But the biggest surprise was my 18th birthday, and the day of the party being held at the manor house, and where I would be mingling with the gentry, and other distinguished guests. I didn’t get a list.
I suppose I panicked.
Helen, the older sister who was wise beyond her years, an ace at diplomacy, and not one to ever ‘speak her mind’ dropped in to see how I was going.
Not very good. No list, no prompts, no ‘how to behave at [named] occasion.
“What’s up, little brother?” she could see I was agitated, though her word would be non-plussed.
“No do’s and don’ts. What’s mother up to? Does she want this party to go south by southwest?”
“Maybe she finally has faith in you. You’re 18 now. I have faith in you.”
“But you know me, foot in mouth disease.”
“Once, but not anymore. Now screw your courage to the sticking point and let’s make an entrance. If all else fails, just remember to stick to two subjects, their health, and the weather.”
No chance of backing out now. The escape route had been effectively closed off. I took a deep breath.
What was it I’d overheard not fifteen minutes ago? Oh, yes. ‘There’s a first time for everything’.
© Charles Heath 2020