When it comes to childhood eating rules, most will have experienced limits on sweets and crisps, the snacking curfew before an imminent meal, and the bribery that arrives in the form of pudding when the vegetables are still lingering sadly on the plate. But what of mess-related rules? I can honestly say that I don’t remember any of the usual rules being applied (probably because I have actually always enjoyed my vegetables, have never found much delight in jelly lips and cola bottles, and never really got into the habit of snacking, bar the mid morning malted-milk). Our rules were more to do with our uncanny ability to consistently miss our mouths.
Honestly, I think that if mum could have created some sort of wipe-able, self-cleaning food room, there would have been no eating rules at all. As it was, we had to settle for the following regulations:
Absolutely no Fruit Pastel ice lollies. Oh how we mourned this one. There is nothing better on a hot day, holding on giddily to the promise of an ice cream, than the fruity rainbow-coloured iced sensation of the Fruit Pastel lolly. But alas, after ruining at least one item of clothing (each) every time we attempted to consume one, it was ruled that we couldn’t have any more until we could learn not to drip it down ourselves (which, let’s face it, is basically never). There were compromises suggested- such as loosing the blackcurrant tip which was the culprit for the clothes staining, but that’s like eating a cherry bake-well without the cherry. In fact, if we could keep one bit it would be that deliciously forbidden blackcurrant stripe. Alas, it was not to be.
Next was the chocolate flake. Not because it sent us bouncing off the walls. Not because it was bad for our teeth (although I’m sure our parents did also consider these things). No, it was because of the way that flakes flaked, crumbled, and disappeared very quickly into the folds of your clothes, the creases of seats, and onto the people around us, not to be located again until standing up for the big reveal. We gained chocolately stripes so many times that it was decreed that no more flakes would be consumed in the car, or anywhere else for that matter unless a plate was tucked firmly under our chins and with the utmost concentration. Of course, chocolate is thankfully not one of the staining cretins so by her own rules, Mum could never officially outright ban it. Ha: a small victory on our part, but a victory nonetheless. (Here we sent each other sidelong looks of smugness and missed our plates, but this wasn’t to be revealed until standing up later).
Finally, well into our teens (even Dad joined in), we experienced an initially embarrassing eating rule, but one which I embrace wholeheartedly now that I have to do my own washing. That was the pinny rule. Any meal that was either tomato based or had some sort of sauce (usually gravy) was given to the eater on the condition that they wear an apron to the tea table. And we’re not talking normal adult cooking aprons. I’m referring to a batch of childhood ones that were probably initially intended for messy painting sessions for under 5’s. There is a Spot the Dog apron, a nice bright red one covered in little rabbits in purple dungarees (my particular favourite), and a few other jazzy wipe-clean designs. Dad made things much worse by referring to them as bibs, but you couldn’t call him a hypocrite when he walked in advising us to don our bibs, wearing a nice shiny Spot the Dog on his front.
At the time, these rules felt like giant fun spoilers, and we begrudged them sulkily. But looking back, poor Mum spent the majority of her mornings scrubbing at t-shirts with the vanish bar, soaking shorts in bowls of tepid water, and trying to fade a blackcurrant blob enough to make it blend into the pattern. If I ever have children, they will probably just wear wipe-able onesies on pain of death, because there’s no way I’m doing that much hand-washing.
To this day, if you ever get the chance to come to tea with my parents, you will be offered a pinny with your plate and let me tell you- there’ll be no gravy if you don’t take it.