Once in late Spring I had occasion to be in Scotland. A marvellous country filled with beautiful scenery and plenty of history. I realised that I was fairly near to a place where I had spent a handful of childhood holidays and decided to drive to the location to ascertain if it remained as I remembered it. I found the estate with ease and followed the single track road trying to catch a glimpse of something, anything that I remembered from our visits here. It was as I turned from the track onto a driveway that I knew I had found the correct place. I halted my vehicle and stared down the driveway. It was lined with scores of cherry trees which were in full blossom. I remembered the first time I saw this drive way and was taken aback at the vibrancy of the pink blossom and how it rained upon us as my father drove us down the driveway, the breeze displacing the blossom and causing it to cascade over us. It was quite the picture and something that I have always recalled although not as much as what came next.
We had spent a week staying at a five star hotel about an hour away from where we were now. This was at the insistence of my mother who had declared,
“If I am to rough it then I want my luxury either side of it.”
Typically a cold fury ensured until my father, as ever, conceded and agreed that we would stay for a week before and four days afterwards at the sumptuous hotel. The place we now headed to was an estate owned by a friend of my father. They had both been in the Royal Air Force together and Geraint, his friend, had removed himself to Scotland to oversee this estate. My mother had said nothing from the moment we had checked out from the hotel that morning. She sat, her icy rage chilling the interior of the car as my father drove us to the estate. My sister babbled incessantly during the journey, commenting on everything we passed in order to fill the silence. My father concentrated on the road ahead being well-used to these frozen car journeys and no doubt wondering how my mother would continue to behave once we arrived. I knew exactly what she would do and I could see my reflection as I grinned with anticipation.
Our car slowly drove along this bright pink tunnel until we halted by a gate. Set on a hillock to the right was a large and impressive house from which a figure, who I assumed was Geraint, half-walked half-jigged. His red corduroy pants housed two legs which skipped across the carefully manicured lawn that embraced the hillock, the colour contrasting with the mustard of his jumper and the green of the shirt beneath. He was as colourful as the entrance to his estate. My father lowered the window as Geraint neared and bellowed into the car,
“Hello hello, well how are you all you wonderful people, tickety boo or not so pukka?”
The rear of the car exploded into laughter at this expression. We had not heard anything like it and coupled with this multi-coloured man who bore a huge grin on his face we were mightily amused. This became the mantra for the week as my siblings and I would ask one another at any opportunity whether he or she was tickety boo or not so pucker. Still laughing I watched as my mother leant towards my father’s side of the car and trilled,
“Geraint how positively marvellous to see you. You look excellent well. I must say we are so looking forward to staying with you this week, it is awfully kind of you to accommodate us. It looks glorious, tell me how is your wife?”
I smirked as what I came to know as the façade was rolled out. I glanced at the rear view mirror to see my father’s reaction. As I suspected it was one of relief.
We children enjoyed our week. We had been housed in a large cottage which was clearly one which belonged to someone who had worked the estate in the past, a farmer or woodsman perhaps. Geraint occupied the main house where we dined three times if I remember correctly and there were fifteen cottages scattered across the estate. We spent our days locating them and adding them to the map we made of the extensive estate. My mother alternated between being fragrant and charming whenever she met Geraint and his family (tickety boo) to then sitting in silence when consigned to the cottage (not so pucker). As usual my father flapped about her trying to extoll the virtue of the cottage and its simpler way of life. The cottage had a permanent musty smell and it was necessary to chop logs outside to burn in the fireplaces and place in the aga range to provide cooking and heating facilities. We enjoyed this difference to the usual conveniences we enjoyed at home but my mother did not. She passed no adverse comment. She did not need to as she had repeatedly berated my father when at the hotel about his choice in coming to stay in this “bloody medieval hovel” and it seemed to me that the lap of luxury which she had insisted on had been not so pucker for her since she spent all of her time slating my father for wanting to see his old RAF pal. The blaming and name-calling then gave way to her iciness for the entire week. I do not recall my mother speaking to my father save when we were in the presence of Geraint and his family when my mother was charm personified, complimentary and quite the star of the dinner table.
Yes this trip stuck in my memory for many reasons but most of all for my exposure to the phrase tickety boo or not so pucker. I saw how these polar states were played out by my mother as part of her manipulation of my father, her quite amazing vacillation between delightful charm and muted resentment. She shone and then she iced over. I have come to realise that this entertaining phrase is most apt for our kind. Either everything is tickety boo, wonderful, marvellous and golden or it is not so pukka, awful, horrible, terrible and cruel. There is never any middle ground. No neutral. We do not do mediocre or mundane. We either give you tickety boo or subject you to not so pukka.