‘You must sit up straight at the table, like a little prince, until everybody else has finished’, said Mother. This comment was typically met with an irksome visage, expressive of frustration at seemingly pointless rituals. I was a boy, brimming over with surplus energy, and with plenty of rigorous derring-do with which to be getting on. Sitting still in a chair, waiting for the lazy mastication of my elders and betters, was a trial. The key to being released from this polite obligation was the observance of another one, in the phrase: ‘Please may I be excused’. Rough and tumble resumed with alacrity. And kids never suffer from indigestion.
These were valuable lessons. There were many more besides, reinforced daily as the price of home cooking. The end in mind was never convincing to my child mind: ‘One day you’ll be invited to business dinners, or job interviews, and you wouldn’t want to be judged for the way in which you hold your fork, would you?’ The emphasis was always negative. There were no points for doing things correctly; only penalties for getting it wrong. It has not exactly turned out that way. Mother vastly overestimated what kind of courtly instruction was being doled out in the other homes. As the social playing field has levelled, one’s boss is as likely to hail from dung-heap stock as he is wont to stutter for the silver spoon in his teeth. I know this only too well, and Mother foresaw it. But she expected things to level up, and I needed to make the grade. It rather seems, lamentably, that things levelled down.
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