On our way to the shops this morning we found ourselves surrounded by a group of very polite, very smiley Austrian students. They were waving a list of questions on British customs to which they were
required to find the answers - which meant, of course, finding some willing locals prepared to provide said answers.
Well, Mr B and I were up for the challenge and so we found ourselves getting
more and more animated, explaining what Guy Fawkes Day and Remembrance Day are all about; naming three British marriage traditions; and recounting what we mean (and what we do) on April Fools Day. Being me, I couldn't just keep
it simple, so there we were, trying to explain, to an increasingly bemused audience, some of our more outlandish customs.
"So Guy Fawkes, you see, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament on
November 5th 1605 and now every year on that day we build bonfires and let off fireworks. Oh, yes, and children sometimes make guys out of old clothes and ask for a "Penny for the Guy" and then poor old Guy Fawkes gets burnt on the bonfire
all over again, year after year....." Puzzled looks, quickly masked by those ever polite smiles. Mr B just about manages to restrain me from singing: "Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot." I do agree, in hindsight,
that this would have been a step too far though at the time I felt it might be enlightening......
We tried explaining why the presence of a chimney sweep is considered lucky at a wedding ("Chimney
sweep? What IS chimney sweep?") and why we sometimes present the bride with a lucky horse-shoe ("Horse-shoe? What IS horse-shoe?") and what the Remembrance Day poppy looks like ("Poppy? What IS poppy?")
I am afraid to say that I couldn't resist telling them the story of a long-ago April Fools Day when my brother, Phil, tied one end of a piece of string onto the door knocker of our house, with my sister and I holding onto the other
end up in the front bedroom. I can still remember the absolute joy of pulling the string to make the door knocker clatter, seeing my mother answering the knock on the door to find nobody there - and calling down "April Fool!" from the
bedroom window! She took it in good grace, bless her.
On further reflection, it has occurred to me that the over-riding impression our students will have taken away from our chance encounter
is that the British are truly, wonderfully, batty. Oh dear, all my fault.....