Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a heathen. Like most people my age, I know to use my cutlery from the outside inwards thanks to the film Titanic. I always stand up when I meet someone for the first time; I recently discovered that you should never fasten the bottom button of a waistcoat (so why have it, hmmm?) and as much as I might sometimes want to, I refrain from burping and farting at the dinner table, mainly because I usually eat my dinner directly from the packaging while sitting on the sofa. So what? Sue me. And also, screw you.
Personally, I blame the parents. I mean, thanks to them I’m rather good at manners thank-you-please, but in terms of social etiquette, forget it. They just couldn’t be arsed, bless them. They thought that such a carry on was tantamount to unnecessary ostentation and that itself was a social crime punishable by a swift punch to the throat. We had our own form of etiquette at home:
1. Don’t chew loudly - although it was rather deliciously called, ‘smacking your chops’ in our house. Smack your chops and expect a smack around the chops, simple as that. Your choice.
2. The youngest (ie. me) had to sacrifice their seat if we had company, which was rare. Visitors were discouraged at all costs, mainly because the carpet was vile and the walls needed painting. Sadly, Dad was far too busy to do this because he had to make sure that no one stole the sofa by laying on it for the majority of the day. If someone did pop in, I would be immediately relegated to what was called the dog shelf ie. the floor. ‘Fat Head,’ they would say, ‘get on the dog shelf.’ Why was I called Fat Head? Because while occupying the aforementioned dog shelf, my sizeable bonce would often obscure the television. The fact that we left it on was less to do with bad manners and more to do with quality of the unwanted company. Yes, Aunty Eilleen, I mean you and your jam tarts that were drier than nun’s unmentionables. Honestly, it was like eating compacted sawdust. Didn’t stop me shoving them down me though. Looking back, we never had treats like biscuits and pop, which makes me wonder how I became such a fat kid.
3. Don’t ring the telephone after 9pm unless someone has died. In fact, don’t even do it then. As much as I might love a crisis, my parents couldn’t cope with one after the watershed. Besides, It’s perhaps better to deal with a catastrophe after a full night of sleep, don’t you think? So yeah, either die at a more convenient time or simply let us know during office hours, thanks.
4. Don’t be pretentious. This was conveyed through telepathy and sneering. Pretension, according to the Rules of the House, wasn’t just being slightly affected or flaunting your brand new Puma trainers while everyone else scuttled around in a pair of old, chewed up Dunlops, it was deviating from the norm in any way at all. Having a conservatory on the back of your house? Pretentious! Drinking red wine? Who the in name of dry buggery do you think you are? A new car? Ridiculous! What’s wrong with an unreliable old jalopy that only starts when it feels like it? When a neighbour started eating pasta in the late 1980s, it was widely ridiculed. There was widespread disbelief that the potato had been jilted in favour of this strange, foreign swill. As for rice? Only acceptable in a pudding, which we only had at Christmas. You know why? Because pudding was PRETENTIOUS, as was holidaying abroad, owning a caravan and, inexplicably, kitchen roll. I mean, what’s wrong with the sink cloth? My mother wouldn’t allow a microwave through the door on account of the fact that someone she knew owned one and this particular woman ‘smelled funny,’ which wasn’t actually funny at all. After she died, Dad got one although it was never referred to as the microwave. It was simply called, ‘the Michael.’ I once took my Dad some moist toilet tissue just to see what would happen. He nearly had a bleed.