On Sunday we threw a surprise ‘Baby Shower’ for Laura. Laura is my youngest daughter and her husband did very well to keep this surprise a secret. It was her Sister-in-law who actually organised the entire thing so, thank you Anne-Marie! Your dedication and organisational skills were very much appreciated and your ‘nappy cake’ was brilliant.
(Who knew that a ‘nappy cake’ is not an iced cake made to look like a nappy? Not me!)
‘Baby Showers’ are a fairly new addition to the UK. They certainly weren’t around when I had any of my children although, thanks to some American neighbours over here from the USA in the ‘70s, I have experienced one before.
I was a teenager in Greater London in the era of Edward Heath, miners’ strikes and the three day working week. During that time, my elder sister and I acted as ‘occasional nanny’ to the two little girls of our American neighbours. He was in the Navy and they were renting a house rather than staying on ‘The Base’. (This notion of an American Naval Base sounded very exciting, not to mention romantic to an impressionable young teenager!)
The Baby Shower was held after the birth of their second child. It was a gorgeous summer’s day and we ate burgers and hot dogs in the garden. There were several babies there and I remember being horrified to see one 11 month old baby girl with little studs inserted into her pierced ears. Such things were beyond my comprehension along with patent shoes – well, how common! (I blame my mother for giving me this viewpoint. She always regarded patent shoes for children as cheap and nasty – such a shame because I loved them!) Everything around us had an American flavour. I confess to never having liked hot dogs but I ate them anyway.
This was an improvement on the previous time I’d been given a hot dog, aged eight. I’d been at the annual ‘Police Pantomime on Ice Show’ (Dad was a policeman). With a large group of children all around me and not knowing what to do with this revolting item after the first bite, I stuffed it back into its bag and pushed it into my coat pocket. By the time I’d sat on the coach for a couple of hours it was not a pretty sight.
Now I come to think about it, I was privy to quite a few American traditions during that period. There was the American 4th July picnic. That was held on ‘The Base’ and my sister and I went along to take care of the children. As we packed the car, I was a little perturbed at the lack of preparation that seemed to have gone into this picnic. Where were the picnic hampers with cucumber sandwiches and Victoria sponge? Where was the tartan rug? Where were the bottles of Pop? Ok, I didn’t call it Pop. That’s just me remembering ‘The Secret Five’ – I was an Enid Blyton fan as a child. There were plenty of nappies and changing mats and plastic bags of spare clothing, there was not a sign of what, in my 14 years’ experience, I had come to recognise as being the essential components of a picnic.
Our American friends gleefully stepped out of the car onto ‘American soil’. Now that was a strange thing as well. This was Ruislip! My first trip ‘abroad’. As we looked around, I saw that we appeared to be in a field, surrounded by high security fences, that doubled as a car park somewhere on The Base.
No one else had rugs and bottles of ginger beer either. Rugs had been replaced by tables and benches. A Barbeque was in full swing at one end of the field next to a whole pig roasting on a spit. Hot dogs and burgers and beans were being dished up with abandon . Cans of Coca Cola were nestling in ice buckets. There was an orderly queue for the food and organised games for the children. Music played and people danced. My sister and I made ourselves eat another hot dog (my first since the baby shower). The day ended with an impressive firework display (and it wasn’t even November).
It was disconcerting to be thrown into such a foreign environment. My previous experience of picnics consisted of a rug being thrown on the ground, weighed down by plates because the wind would always have got up by this time. Mum would have made sandwiches – likely to be fish paste, cheese and cucumber, corned beef or jam for us children. I do believe we may also have had ‘spam’. We’d sit on the rug to ensure it did not get airborne and munch our way through the sandwiches despite the fact that the weather may have ‘turned’ or that a swarm of wasps had decided to join us (blame the jam).
Plastic tasting orange squash would be poured out into plastic cups, the grown-ups having plastic tasting tea from a flask. The crowning glory would be a sponge cake made by mother or perhaps some chocolate ‘wagon wheels’ or ‘tiger tails’. Take all that and place it on a beach and sandwiches become sand-wedges. Ah, memories…
The American version was undeniably different – so organised! There were even proper toilets!
So, my experience of ‘things from across the pond’ continued to grow with a Thanksgiving dinner (Turkey before Christmas – how odd!) and of course, pop-corn. We mustn’t forget the pop-corn because until that moment I thought pop-corn was some sweetly flavoured sticky affair in a bag and did not connect it with the glorious ‘popping corns’ on the stove, tipped into a bowl and drenched in salt. Even my children would laugh at me for that now.
Of course, I was young and things have moved on a little since then. You can buy corn to pop in most supermarkets or ready popped, bagged and salted. Baby Showers are growing in popularity and my daughters all wore patent shoes when they were small. Come to that, fireworks are lit at any time of the year these days though still mainly between October and December.
It strikes me too that our annual Barker Barbeque, is very like an American Picnic. I wonder what customs our American friends took back to the States with them when they returned? Perhaps even as I write, they are sitting in a field on a blanket, eating cucumber sandwiches and Victoria Sponge Cake whilst reminiscing about their time in England.