What I learnt from Marion

If you grew up with a Scottish granny of the extreme Calvinist variety, then certain things were ingrained at an early age, never to go away.
Such as:
1. Boiled sausage is good for you. (And so are very boiled veggies.)
2. Eating cake at 5 o’clock in the afternoon just before dinner at 5.30pm is fine.
3. Painting everything in the house that can take paint should be done once a year.
4. Never swim on a Sunday (or take any other obvious pleasure of a physical variety). Sunday is the Lord’s Day and a Day of Rest.
5. Always wear a hat.
6. Shoes should be made of leather.
7. Don’t wear makeup or trousers because God will think you’re a tart or a boy.
8. Read the whole Bible in one year and then start again the next.
9. Absolutely believe that the Book of Revelations is literal truth.
10. Totally believe anything on the radio (including the morning soapies) but completely avoid books not in the Bible – “too much reading will lead you astray” (it did).
11. Men are innate philanderers (this I suspect because my grandfather had left her when he finally discovered she had lied about her age – she was 30 not 20 when she married him and it took him about 20 years to find out).
12. Children are fantastically wonderful and not responsible for any of their actions until they reach the “age of accountability” when they will then know that nothing stands between them and their God and they will have to talk to him directly without the aid of their granny.
13. Always pay cash, don’t buy anything on credit.
14. If you’ve agreed to go to a party and somebody you like more comes along with a better invitation, do not break your promise to go to the first.
15. Say sorry when you’re wrong.
Now that I think about it, this list is just like that one being peddled around years ago which tried to encourage public decency by telling people that all the important things in life could be learned at nursery school: “Drink your milk every day” (very bad advice for sinusy people); “take a nap” (???); “Don’t hit the bully when you get the chance” (!!!) and such-like platitudes.
My Nana was four foot, 11 and a half inches and she lied about the half. She was tiny but powerful, mostly because I was born in the 60s and my parents had discovered rock-and-roll so they were being bad parents and Nana had to step in to protect me. Despite their membership (because of it?) in the Christian Brethren church they were dancing and desiring Elvis, wearing red lipstick and bouffant hairdos and earrings and trousers, racing fast cars (a little red beetle), spending a year’s salary on a sound system and having parties, many parties.
They were living in rejection of the list. Particularly number 1. In those years my parents discovered Italian and Greek food for which I am eternally grateful. If they did one good, influential thing for me in my formative years, which Nana couldn’t control, they made me curious about food not from that tiny foggy island west of Europe.
It has taken me most of my adult life to root out the list and decide whether I want to keep it. Some things were easy to dispense with (the sausages, the no swimming on Sunday), but others took a long time. Like the Book of Revelations. I came home from school one day and couldn’t find Nana anywhere. She’d popped next door without leaving a note, but I was convinced (and had nightmares for years to come) that the rapture had happened, Jesus had come and I’d been left behind. What a rush of terror.
The three I’ve decided to keep are the buy cash, keep to your first yes rule and the say sorry bit. And it strikes me that while a bit down-homey, some of these could be rules that would greatly enhance our public life in this country.
Can you imagine if all the enriched lived on the “buy cash” rule (which implicitly means what you can afford and not what you could maybe afford on credit).
Recently the SA National Editors’ Forum sent out an email to all its editor members imploring them to get the journalists working for them to turn up at events they had committed themselves to. They were concerned that the public was forming an image of journalists as gadflies. That’s when the “first yes” rule could be helpful.
But most useful of all could be the “say sorry when you’re wrong rule”. This one I’d like to see legislated, with these actual words made compulsory: “I’m sorry, I messed up, I’ll fix it.”
Recently I went up to Joburg to have two meetings about money with two people. It cost me three days and the airfare to get there. Both stood me up and both blamed me for not phoning in advance to remind them. Both of them have secretaries. I don’t.
I was extremely angry but mostly because neither of them simply said “Sorry, my mistake”.
But then, the rules have to have been imbibed from a young age. You have to have had a Marion Jameson McFadjeon somewhere, back there in your life. And not everybody is that lucky.

October 2003

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