Little Kids in Sweatshops Making Toys for American Kids


When I was a kid, about seven or eight, I had a toy rocket. It had an American flag on one of the fins.

One day I turned the rocket over, and noticed that it said “Made in China”

So I asked my mom,” Why doesn’t it have a Chinese flag on the fin since it was made there?”

My mom answered,”It might have been made in China, but it was made for American kids to play with.”

So then I asked,”Well, do they also make rockets with Chinese flags, for Chinese kids to play with?”

My mom answered, “No, kids in China are too busy making toy rockets in sweatshops for you to play with and don’t have time to play.”

Bit of an exaggeration, but the point was well made and always stuck with me.
I don’t remember it making me feel guilty, but I sure thought about it!
Sometimes parents have to build our outlook on things in life by pointing out the less fun things.


Bang Bang Maxwell’s Wooden Cane Came Down Upon Her Hand!

From the Bad old Days:

My mother went to elementary school in Belfast, Northern Ireland just after World War II ended: late 40s, early 50s. Back then, corporeal punishment was not just accepted and allowed, it was school policy.

The instrument of correction used was a bamboo cane. It was about 30 inches long, about as thick as your pinky and hooked at the end, like a cane. it had some flexibility, in that when it was being manufactured, it had been soaked in brine for added flexibility.

As the 50s came, fewer and fewer teachers caned their students. Each teacher used their own discretion on whether they caned or did not cane, who they caned, to what intensity (within reason), and for what offenses.

My mother told me that married female teachers rarely caned, whereas male teachers would cane, but not as frequently as unmarried/spinster female teachers. I leave you to draw your own psychological analysis there.

Some teachers would cane you once, some would cane you multiple times. Some teachers would cane boys, but not girls, or cane girls fewer times. Some of the teachers would split the cane at the end so that when it came down on a student’s hand it would make a louder bang, thus increasing the fear factor for all the students.

My mother told me the canings pretty much followed the same format: The offending student was called to the front of the room, the teacher would retrieve the cane off the top of the blackboard frame, instruct the student to hold out his left hand, palm up (we wouldn’t want to interfere with his ability to write, now, would we? Besides, all good children are right handed!), take aim to the to where the fingers joined the palm, and BANG!!! (or in some cases BANG BANG BANG!!!). The kid would try to look nonchalant in order to retain the respect of his peers (especially if he was a boy), and the day would go on.

My mother told me she got caned exactly once, for talking out of turn. She said you heard the bang before you felt it, kind of how when you touch something hot it takes a second to register and feel the burn. She was left handed so it was a double edged sword for her; she was expected to continue with her schoolwork (using a fountain pen) after the caning. She said that the swelling went down by the next day, and the bruise would be gone within a week. That was from one stroke. Three or more strokes would inevitably break the skin. Some teachers, in their fury, would cane up to six times (I think the maximum allowable number).

There was a store close by the school that sold bamboo canes. Incidentally, it was also the store frequented by the children of the school to get candy and other items before and after school. Behind the counter, on a string between two steam pipes hung several bamboo canes, for teachers to buy. So that when a child came to buy something at the store, he or she would have to look at those canes hanging from the string. From what I understand, the proprietors of the store were not very nice people, either, so it was apropos that they would have no problem selling such a thing.

Perhaps the most terrifying thing in all this was that the bamboo canes had a life. Depending on how cane-happy the teacher was, the cane would eventually break, sometimes on a kid’s hand. The teacher, mid-caning, would then give the kid money, send him to the nearby store to purchase the replacement cane to finish the job. I wonder how many kids considered taking the money and running?

Luckily by 1960 the school (and most UK schools) had more or less retired the practice, although there were a few holdouts into the 80s.

Aren’t you glad you went to school in the nice, cushy recent past, where being hit with a stick by your teacher was never a risk you had to take? (Although I had a teacher who had a paddle with metal rivets in it that she would bang on the desk when she got mad!)

PS: When my mother relays this story, she does it with the “voices” and the sound effects!

The Real Inventor of Vanilla Vodka

My mother invented vanilla vodka. She did. Really.

My mother used to do a lot of baking, and at some point, she decided that vanilla extract was too expensive. Come to think of it, it is; that tiny bottle you get in the “baking needs” section of the supermarket is kind of a rip off.

So she decided to make her own. She bought this big-ass vanilla bean from the Hawthorne Valley Farm store, and a liter of cheap vodka (Popov, Mr. Boston, Georgi etc), Put the bean in the vodka to soak, and put the bottle in the back of a discreet cabinet in the kitchen.

But my mother didn’t know her sons. And her son’s friends. And perhaps her daughter as well.
I was about eighteen and I found the bottle in the back of the cabinet. The vanilla bean must have been soaking in that bottle for about a month already, and the vodka had somewhat taken the color of the bean (brownish). My mother often made strange concoctions, so I was a little wary, but when I opened the bottle and took a whiff, it smelled like vanilla. And when I took a taste, it was damn good! So I took a drink. And then another.

Well, unbeknownst to me, my brother Mike, and my sister Elaine had also found the bottle. And every so often, when I walked by the bottle, I’d help myself to a drink. If my friends were over, they’d take a drink, too. As did Mike and Elaine. Pretty soon the bottle was half down. At least.

Well, I guess the day came when my mother wanted to use the vanilla extract, because at some point she came flying into the living room, brandishing the bottle half full of brown, delicious vanilla vodka and looking like she wanted to nail someone to the wall.

MOM: Who’s been at my vanilla extract?????

MIKE & ROB: [guilty looks]

ROB: Vanilla extract?

MOM: I wanted to make vanilla extract, and someone has been helping themselves to it!! Half of it’s gone!

(what she didn’t know is that everybody had been helping themselves to it)

ROB: Well, you know, sometimes if you let alcohol sit for awhile, it evaporates through the bottle.

MOM: I know where it evaporated! It evaporated down your throat!!!

Mike and I started laughing.

MOM: Not funny!

But it was!

In retrospect, if 39 year old Rob could beam himself to 1993, he would have advised my mom to patent it. Our family would have made a fortune!

I didn’t see vanilla vodka come onto the scene until around 2000, so my mother had them beat, with her artisinal vanilla vodka.

The next time she made vanilla extract, she hid it well.

More Sharp Wit


“A useless ornament”:
MEANS: a useless person who does nothing and contributes nothing; a layabout.
EXAMPLE: Look at that useless ornament sitting on her arse while everybody else does all the work!

“You would spoil a wake” (as in a wake after someone dies)
MEANS: You can’t execute any task without messing it up (sort of a variation on “You had one job”)
EXAMPLE: All you had to add to this cake batter was water and an egg! You would spoil a wake!

“Not taking a bite out of you”
MEANS: Not doing you any harm.
EXAMPLE: That smelly old drunk wee-weeing in the gutter is not taking a bite out of you!

“Looks like a menu”
MEANS: Has food spilled all over it.
EXAMPLE: You can’t wear that tie! you spilled soup on it! It looks like a menu!

“You’re neither sugar nor salt!”
MEANS: You won’t melt (when exposed to water)
EXAMPLE: You don’t need an umbrella! You’re neither sugar nor salt; the rain’s not taking a bite out of you!

Not To Be Trifled With

I have a great story about my mother.

Now, most of you know, I am full of stories and love to share them, and you also might know I didn’t get it from nothing. My mother is also full of stories. And if you ever met my mother, you would not be surprised at this one!

Right after high school, my mother went to nursing school at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was from about 1959 to 1961 or so, by the time she was nineteen or twenty, she was an RN, and worked in the hospital.

Now, nursing school was rigorous, as it is today, but nurses were expected to know certain protocol and procedures that don’t apply today (such as the technique of assembling a syringe with one hand). They were also expected to adhere to an especially strict standard of dress and decorum, both in and out of the hospital. Everything had to get past the head nurse.

At some point in her nursing career, my mother found herself working the “men’s ward”. Hospital wards weren’t like they are today, with double rooms and private bathrooms and your own TV. They were long open wards with beds along the walls, and the nurses counter/console in the center. I think the nurses station was at the far end. They were called “Florence Nightingale Wards”. The nurses wore classic nurse outfit, complete with nurses hat and white dress.

This setup didn’t give very much privacy to the patients, but it also made the ward a very social place, assuming the patients were in a condition to converse. And patients weren’t discharged until they were ready, so…..

So. 1962 or so. My mother at age nineteen or twenty. Taking care of an open ward full of men. These were old-school men, some of them old enough to be my mother’s father. Or even her grandfather. Their behavior was gracious and gentlemanly. They were grateful for the care they received, were affable and unfailingly polite.

Most of them were. Until they wheeled this one old geezer in. This guy got off on the wrong foot right away with his leering and thinly veiled sexual innuendo. He further proceeded to piss my mother off by smoking in the ward without permission and blaming it on her when the head nurse took away his cigarettes (because you could smoke in the ward, but only at certain hours. 1962 and all that). He attempted to bribe himself into preferential care and favors by trying to slip her cash. And when a procedure required the bearing of a little skin, he would strip down to his birthday suit, leering and making innuendo the whole time. The other men in the ward were aware of his behavior and took a dim view of it, too.

But this old bastard knew not with whom he was messing: My mother. And there came a point where my mother had had enough. After putting up with this guy’s blatant harassment for a few days, she was sick of it. And the time had come. You do not mess with my mother and expect to come out of it unscathed.

Every day, at some point this guy needed an injection. Just a little shot of whatever. The nurses had access to whatever grade of syringe was correct for the task at hand: everything from tiny syringes for administering medication (which is what this guy needed) to huge eighteen inch syringes for drawing out spinal fluid under general anesthetic.

In the nurses station my mother prepared his injection. She assembled the small syringe with his correct dose of medication. But on the tray, she put one of the eighteen-inch spinal tap syringes. She then brought the tray, covered with a sterile cloth to his bed.

“Good morning, I have a wee injection for you, dear. Will you roll over and lift your gown, please?”

She then made sure the tray was in his line of sight, uncovered it, and made sure he got a good look at the (empty) spinal tap syringe. And when my mother took the correct size syringe (which she had kept hidden), and jabbed it into his buttock, he let out a scream.

All the other guys, many of whom had fought in World War II (or maybe even World War I) were disgusted.
“What’s that big noise for? Sure, it’s only a wee injection!”

He never messed with my nineteen-year old mother again.

My mother has white hair now. She knits, does Irish set dancing and tells stories. She is a grandmother of five. And I wish you could hear her tell this one, because you could still hear the relish in her voice as she tells it complete with the “voices” and the accompanying theatrics. I laughed for days after she told me this one. I really can’t do it justice.

But my mother is not to be messed with. I figured that out pretty much the day I was born!

Yes, Mom

Words, Phrases and Idioms of my Mother:

1) Don’t start reading any long books!
She’d say this after you coughed or sneezed; the implication being you might not be alive long enough to finish your book.

2) Your two arms the one length.
Not doing any work, shirking, being lazy.
EXAMPLE: Why are you standing there your two arms the one length? Finish shoveling the driveway!

3) The Devils’s own job.
A difficult undertaking.
EXAMPLE: It was the devils own job to get Robert to stop standing there his two arms the one length and and shovel the driveway.

4) Rude pictures of ladies.
Porn or nude pictures, like Playboy or Penthouse.
EXAMPLE: Michael, I found rude pictures of ladies under your bed!

4)A dirty butter
A filthy person in need of a bath. (Sometimes a person of bad character)
EXAMPLE: Look at that dirty butter with the flies buzzing around him
Bernie Madoff is a dirty butter.

5) I’m not as green as I am cabbage looking!
I’m not as dumb as I look.
EXAMPLE: I know you are telling fibs about not taking the cookies. I’m not as green as I am cabbage looking!

6) The Bad Books.
Trouble. The dog house.
EXAMPLE: This week you told fibs about taking cookies and had rude pictures of ladies in your room! You’re in the bad books!

Belfast Air Raids in the 1940s

My mother was born in 1942, in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the middle of World War II.
She was three when it ended in 1945, but she, like me, has a very long memory and has told me these interesting pieces of information from her memory of the era:

Pimms ave 220741

Air Raid rehearsal drill, Pim’s Avenue, Belfast

On street corners, there were these little concrete huts that were bomb shelters. They were about the size of a bus shelter. They had thick walls, a skinny doorway and no windows. Although during an actual air raid, people evacuated their houses and went to an assembly point, if one was taken short, he could take refuge in one of the bomb shelters on the street. After the war, it was a few years before they got around to demolishing them. Kids used to play in the shelters, but were generally warned by their parents to give them a wide berth. Bums, drunks and other unsavory people on the street would go to the bathroom in them (as well as other activities), and it wasn’t unheard of for a pervert to lure a kid in there. By 1950 they were gone.

bootle air raid shelter

World War II Air Raid Shelter

In the even of an air raid, everybody in the neighborhood was to evacuate to an assembly point. The siren gave enough time.

Drills were often carried out, and they could be any time of the day or night.

Every house had a gas mask for every member of the household, in the event of a gas attack. For young children the masks were made in the shape of Mickey Mouse, and had a flap of rubber over the exhaust, so that it would make a funny farting noise as the child exhaled. The logic behind this was so that the kid wouldn’t be scared to put the thing on his face.


This was a children’s “Mickey Mouse” gas mask.  The resemblance to Mickey Mouse is a stretch at best.  It looks creepier than a standard gas mask!  (Photo courtesy of The Museum of Technology the Great war and WWII)



There were these one piece jumpsuits you could buy, called “siren suits”. This was in the event of an air raid attack or drill, just in case you were in bed, or in the bath and needed to throw something on in a hurry to get to the assembly point.


Winston Churchill modelling a siren suit.

When many houses in England were bombed, people noticed that the stairways were the only thing left standing. This was because the triangle was the strongest shape. Many people wrongheadedly believed it would provide ample protection from an explosion, so instead of going to the assembly point, they hid in the space under the stairs, called the “glory hole”. After the bombing, in the space, whole families would be found dead, but apparently intact. The blast from the bomb had imploded their lungs.

Avondale st looking towards bloomfield ave 13741

Aftermath of Air Raid , Avondale Street, Belfast.  This was a result of the Belfast Blitz, one year before my mother was born

I think our childhoods were less scary. Interesting piece of history, and, if you know my mom, she knew how to make it really interesting.