Any child from an Irish household will harbour a lifelong fear of, certainly one of the more unassuming kitchen implements: the wooden spoon.
See, it was the beating weapon of choice in my mother’s house – passed on to her by her Irish mother and father, and their mother and father before that, like an ugly family heirloom that nobody wants but everybody feels obliged to keep.
Whatever our indiscretion might have been – it was usually something as mundane as eating biscuits saved for guests or talking too much during an episode of Eastenders – our knickers would be pulled down and the wooden spoon would be wholopped against our pasty arses five to six times. An expert in her field, mum would ensure the spoon covered as *much surface area as possible, and with a slight flick of a practiced wrist, her rings would catch and cut the skin of the arse nice and sharply, too.
A true torturer, she’d often ask us to deliver her the discipline implement directly. We duly did as we were told. Sometimes if we were feeling brave we’d try and run upstairs, but she’d quickly corner us or threaten us with a beating far worse (with the bamboo cane) if we didn’t surrender there and then, so, naturally, we always did.
It always hurt, but we’d try not to let it show. Like martyrs, we’d keep our faces as blank as humanly possible just to piss her off. Which was stupid, as by pissing her off we warranted further beating. We’d then run upstairs and scream into a pillow, before admiring and competitively comparing our new battle scars in the mirror.
One day my sister and I took matters into our own hands: we decided to hide all of the wooden spoons. If there are no wooden spoons, there would be no beatings. Simple logic. We knew mum would be furious but it was an act of self-preservation – and of mutiny. We hid them in the toilet cistern, under sofas, in biscuit tins on high up shelves, in the dollhouse, in the attic and in the cat’s bed under his big furry behind, grinning with glee as we crept around the flat.
“What are you two looking so happy about?” mum asked us at dinner that night.
“We’ve just been discussing how grateful we are that you smashed up the telly last week. We’ve found we’ve been reading far more and playing games again.” I said, as earnestly as possible.
My sister gave me a withering look. She knew this was a dangerous game I was playing – mocking mum’s most recent episode so brazenly, fuelled by the day’s rebellions.
Naturally, we were distraught she had smashed up the TV in one of her rages. At weekends it was our lifeline – it wasn’t as if we were being taken to cinemas, parks, camping or to build-a-bloody bear like our peers were. We planned our days around CBBC’s schedule, prioritising Tracy Beaker, our favourite show. Even though the protagonist, Tracy, was in care, it was a sad and unspoken fact that we both envied her life. As mum tipped the telly dramatically over the banisters and down the stairs – finishing the show with her theatrical, oft-repeated phrase “Are you happy with your handiwork?” – we said goodbye to Tracy, Duke and the gang for the time being, and took solace in our other reliable fictional friends: Harry, Hermione and Ron. We prayed that she would let this book-based avenue of escape remain untouched.
“Oh, right, yes well I always have your best interests at heart,” she replied, nodding in approval.
“It’ll only rot your brain that stuff,” she continued. “And that Tracy Mug shite you watch, all that show does is give kids the wrong ideas about life in care. It wouldn’t be any of that baking with the fat black fella or hugs from whoever and LGBT crap, it would be sexual abuse and an empty belly.”
When my sister rather unwisely took her plaits out at school one day – and came home with hair hanging around her face (and probably now full of lice) – mum took one look at her before walking to the kitchen drawer, pulling it open, and standing over it in silence. She moved over to the utensils pot near the oven, peered inside. Silence. My sister and I looked at each other.
It. Was. Happening.
Mum continued searching the kitchen, getting more and more riled as each drawer, nook and cranny proved a fruitless search. She walked out of the kitchen – my sister and I high-fived, grinning at each other, nervous and perversely excited for what was to come. To our dismay, she returned a few minutes later with an entire, unopened box of brand-new wooden spoons. She had a secret supply. We gulped, pulled down our knickers, turned around, bent over and winced as she made the first blow and broke in the new, shiny, yet-to-be-used heirlooms.
*My older brother wishes to add here, that the spatula was also used for extreme disciplining as had superior surface area coverage.
RMC is a London-based writer and book-lover. Current projects include a memoir, a collection of monologues, short stories and a series of travelogues. Follow her on Instagram @rmcwords.
photo credits @louishansel