COLM O'REGAN: Do we all end up doing the things we saw older generations doing?

You don’t start off clasping your hands behind your back but suddenly there it is, says Colm O’Regan.

It comes full circle doesn’t it? The things you saw older generations doing and briefly wondered why. But as surely as a new butterfly unfurls itself and wipes the sticky caterpillar-sleep off its wings, you’ll do it yourself one day. Recently I found myself walking, with my hands clasped behind my back. As if I were a presenter on a summer-filmed TV show, walking down a tree-lined avenue, having the history of Fitherington Castle explained to me by an enthusiastic historian with wild hair. “And it was the third earl who was the most scandalous” he says, breathlessly narrating some tale of what we would now call domestic violence.

You don’t start off clasping your hands behind your back but suddenly there it is. My own theory is that fatherhood has something to do with it. Now that we’re walking (and using the first person plural to describe a singular baby’s activities), there is a lot more standing around in the park, resisting the temptation to roar at her to keep it simple and protect the ball. And hands clasped behind back give the fastest option to react to any dangers from dog turds or wildlife.

Wrestling hands out of one’s jeans pockets could lead to the fraction-of-a-second delay that would allow the swan to attack. We all know what swans can do to a man’s arm. Imagine what it could do to a toddler? Actually, probably nothing; swans and babies have a lot of similar habits - hissing, chasing strangers, eating bread from the ground.

People who don’t have children clasp hands behind backs too so maybe correlation is not causation.

But I do know parenthood definitely causes one other generational loop to close : The growth of SUGAR and FLIP!

There are two situations when one’s swearing lands like a football on a car bonnet: talking to an American and talking to a baby.

Talking to a polite Kansan is sure to make you realise that you swear like the sweariest marine under fire from the enemy. And all I was doing was giving them directions. Seriously. While telling them where to go, I dropped in the nugget that “Town is fierce effing complicated with the one-way”.

The mid-westerners looked shocked but they’re not alone. And all over Ireland, tourists hear shop assistants, taxi drivers, people on the street, everyone cheerfully cussing each other out of it as if auditioning for Tarantino.

Babies don’t look shocked. But you still have to hold your tongue in front of them.

Not because it’s been established that a sweary baby is intrinsically a bad thing, but because a sweary baby makes its parents look like bad people who no doubt are filling her bottle with Skittle-smoothie as well.

So speaking of Added Sugar, Sugar! as an exclamation has come back into my vocabulary since the last time I heard my mother shout it at the cat or for a fallen marmaladey-toast.

And it’s hard. Artificial sugar is not as good as the real thing. Flip doesn’t exorcise pain like the other f-f-fella does. But I can just about do it. If I concentrate and cross my fingers tightly, in my hands clasped behind my back.


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