My grandmother worked off and on as a ladies’ maid during her youth and forever after believed a true lady was revealed by the gloves she wore.
While she herself owned only hand-knitted gloves, she laid out gloves for the lady of the house appropriate to the occasion. Fine gloves of soft leathers and suedes – sewn from doeskin, buckskin, chamois, peccary – riding gloves, driving gloves, elbow-length suede gloves for opening the village fete.
I was reared within a family of farm labourers and navvies, but at home we lived to a high standard of behaviour and good manners. By today’s standards, perhaps I was repressed, for those were the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ days.
‘Don’t put your elbows on the table’, ‘don’t speak with your mouth full’, always ask ‘please may I leave the table?’ when everyone has finished eating.
Eating in the street was forbidden, nor should we shout loudly to friends. In the humble households of wives who had spent time ‘in service’, standards of cleanliness and good behaviour were apparent. They aped the rituals, routines and niceties from up at the Big House. Demure and ladylike was the direction for girls.
At that time toddlers were restrained by use of leather reins and they remained strapped securely into their high prams, even when they could walk well. They were expected to watch the world go by and keep quiet. Mother would stand no nonsense.
These days, by comparison, small children are allowed to run wild and unattended in shops, let free from pushchairs to run amok, to finger the merchandise displayed on lower shelves – lifting it, squeezing it, demanding they must have it, screaming loudly when refused. They rush hither and thither unchecked, unnerving the unsteady elderly dependent on walking aids.
Though child-rearing gurus might argue it might curb self-expression, I would be glad to see restraining reins for toddlers reintroduced. And who hasn’t felt anxious seeing a youngster teetering on the edge of a roadside kerb where traffic is rushing by, while mother with empty pushchair follows a few paces behind.
I am now old and critical, but things I see while making use of my OAP bus pass set me wondering. For instance, a small boy was standing on a bus seat ringing the passenger bell from time to time. “It’s only my boy,” the mother called out to the driver. She shook a reprimanding finger at her child who, in response, punched her. In response she cuddled him. Another mother changed her toddler’s nappy in full view of all. Luckily it wasn’t smelly but some of the elderly on board sniffed disapproval.
Toddlers are allowed to trample over seats while wearing wet shoes, to smear windows with sticky fingers, to eat gooey buns and to scream blue murder long and loud if they don’t get what they want when they want it.
I say bring back restraining reins for toddlers – for their sake and for ours. And elegant gloves for ladies to restore the glove-making industry.