My mother was very fond of sayings, she would manage to find one to suit every situation, sometimes a completely inappropriate one. I often heard her swap them with her friends, it was almost like a competition to see who could undermine the others pearl of wisdom, or maybe just to reinforce it. One of her favourites was ‘Charity begins at home’. This would be challenged by ‘The kindness of strangers’.
As a family many years ago, we benefitted from both. Our near neighbours, who were in the same parlous state as we were still managed to find something for us. And people from far away who we never knew also chipped in.
When Mrs Salmon was sitting comfortably in her favourite chair, whole conversations would sometimes consist of one ‘saying’ after another, it could go on for ages.
This reminded me of a time in 1953. I have been home for a month, from serving my time in Egypt. My lovely tan had faded and with it, any chance of attracting a girl-friend. Here I was, sitting in the kitchen on a Saturday morning, looking a bit dejected, Mrs Salmon looks over.
“Alan, you should be out there ‘Sowing your wild oats’.
Mum joined in and said.
“Yes, Alan, ‘The early bird always gets the worm”.
Mrs Salmon, “Shy man never gets fair lady”.
Mum, “As long as you look before you leap”.
Mrs S. “He who hesitates is lost”.
It went like this for ages, there was hardly a word of normal conversation.
Luckily Mr Norman, our ‘Tally man’ had ducked under the kitchen window to avoid being seen, and suddenly appeared at the back door hoping for some money, under his arm was his latest catalogue.
Mr Salmon said. “There’s the answer, Alan, why don’t you see if Mr Norman can get you one of those lovely Blazer’s that we see all the time, you know with the silver buttons”.
My mother, bless her, said.
“The trouble with you Alan, is that you are quite a funny shape, look at that sports jacket you are wearing, you’re flat chested, round shouldered and your arms are too long, and why on earth did you buy a cabbage green jacket, it evens smells like cabbages”.
Mr. Norman, said. “Yes, you do have very long arms, you would make a good goal-keeper’.
Then turning to my mother said, as if I wasn’t in the room. “We can do a made-to-measure blazer, for just a few more shillings a week. You don’t happen to have a tape measure do you?”.
I looked in the drawer where everything was put, just in case we ever needed it. But no tape measure, just an old carpenter’s folding ruler. But undeterred, Mrs. Salmon grabbed it and a ball of string. “We can do the measurements with this”.
And without further ado, she wrapped the string around my chest, then laid it on the ruler, and started to read out my measurement’s.
Chest 35 inches, waist 27, hips 35, the sleeves were more trouble, so she just added an inch to be on the safe side.
My opinion never seemed to be of any interest to anyone, it seemed to me that.
‘Children should be seen and not heard’—although I was nearly 22!
Three weeks later, Mr Norman arrived with my new blazer. Navy blue Barathea Whipcord, the latest fashion. Astonishingly it fitted perfectly.
My mother, for a moment was lost for words, but then said.
“Alan, clothes really do maketh the man”.
Mrs Salmon added.
“Handsome is as handsome does”
Mr Norman, catching the moment said.
“A bird in the hand is better than a bird in the bush”. This got a rather frosty look from Mrs Salmon. Even I found that one a bit odd.
At that moment, my brother came in and said.
“How did you get such a good fit without a proper tape measure?
My mother just gave one of her special smiles as if one of her five horse each way accumulators had come up and said.
“How long is a piece of string?”.