Many expressive turns of phrase from my childhood have disappeared. My father used to have ‘forty winks’ after his Sunday lunch. I imagined him laying on the bed and blinking 40 times. A ‘lick and a promise’ was a soapy flannel rubbed quickly over your face and hands pending a more thorough wash. And what lady powders her nose or ‘spends a penny’ these days, apart from my friend Lizzie?
But there were darker euphemisms, too, in the run up to the sexual revolution of the late sixties. If you didn’t ‘take precautions’ you would get ‘into trouble’ like the girl in Stan Barstow’s ‘ A Kind of Loving’, a novel that perfectly portrays that buttoned up era.
My grandmother, born in 1892, used terms that were positively archaic to me. She always called me her ‘little scholar’ which I took as a reference to my gold stars at school. After several seasons of ‘ Who do you think you are?’ I now wonder if it was an old term to register school aged children on official documents. She also referred to pencils as ‘blackleads’ and couldn’t quite get the hang of the new fangled term.
And one of my favourite expressions of hers was ‘Hark!’ to gain our attention. That always made me feel Christmassy.