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The Sentence

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The clanging sound of the cutlery drawer opening at speed was one of pending doom.

It’s fair to say I swear a lot. I could blame our working-class upbringing, but my parents did more than enough to discourage our potty mouths.

When we were little, any foul language was met with audio/visual threats. For example, Dad would respond to rude words by lighting a match and yelling “I’ll burn your tongue!” This usually did the job; as did the slightly less menacing promise of a thorough oral cleansing, dramatically emphasised with a bar of Velvet soap held up to our faces.

As we grew the threats were occasionally replaced by actual punishment at the hands of my mother who’d use the nearest kitchen utensil to administer swift and lethal justice. In our house, the clanging sound of the cutlery drawer opening at speed was one of pending doom. This served as a deterrent that worked for the most part, but occasionally the odd snippet of filth would slip through our careless lips, earning Mum’s wrath.

My most memorable effort is still discussed at family gatherings – for both the degree of foul language used by a 9 year-old boy, and the resulting violence used against a 9 year-old boy.

I’m not sure what made me call my older brother Anton a “cocksucker” or how I even knew such a word existed. But I used that very phrase one Saturday morning in his bedroom. No doubt my dummy spit was one of frustration born by the continued oppression a younger sibling must endure, but I could have found a less offensive way to express it. And I also could have expressed it more than metre away from my mother who handed out her rapid-fire summary justice before I managed to utter the third syllable.

As was often the case Mum’s retribution was ironically accompanied by a tirade of swearing that put anything I said in the shade.

The assault over, I maintained as much dignity as I could muster and responded in the only way a little brother can when punished for using grown up vulgarity. The smug look on Anton’s 13-year-old face turned to horror as he realised what I was about to say: a sentence that is one of the strongest tools in the battered younger sibling’s meagre arsenal.

“Anton taught me how to say that!”

Boom! He copped it good the poor bastard. I never did recall him teaching me that.

The Sentence served me well over the years and would always ensure that he copped the same if not harder than I did whenever I used language unbecoming of a child. Like the time in the kitchen when I called him a poofter. By then I learned to yell out “Anton taught me how to say that” before I got hit, meaning he’d cop the wooden spoon and I’d escape without a finger being laid on me.

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My mum explained

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When I as in my early 20s I worked in a pub in London where I met a white Zimbabwean chap named Scotty, who was barely five foot tall and really enjoyable to be around. However, I learned that there was a lot more to Scotty than met the eye. A veteran of the Rhodesia Zimbabwe Civil War, he was in a commando unit that got up to some pretty heavy stuff, which I’d hear about from his mates or sometimes from the man himself when he’d had a few.

One story told how Scotty was lying low in the bush observing an enemy camp when an enemy soldier came out to take a piss in the shrubs near him. Fearing he’d be spotted Scotty got up and slashed the guy’s throat killing him instantly. It was hard to believe this jovial little guy who’d do anything for you had slain a man in the heat of the moment.

My mum reminds me of Scotty. She is diminutive, kind and selfless and for the most part lives a peaceful and loving existence. Just don’t piss in front of her!

Camilla Lucy Bonnici (nee Abela) has commando skills that would be in the SAS Handbook if it had a section on suburban family warfare. Her ninja-like speed and deadly skill with kitchen utensils meant you’d often be nursing a bruised arse before you even knew what hit you.

I have been on the receiving end of such attacks, but I’ve also had the sheer pleasure of being witness to my siblings copping the full force of her Maltese fury.

Out foxed

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The Sweet's Fox on the Run very nearly killed my brother.

One weekend my brother and I were on the couch just chilling out. Anton was singing the Sweet’s Fox on the Run with the appropriate emphasis on Fox so it sounded like “Faaaarx on the Run … “.

Our little sister Charlene, who was six at the time and excelled at dobbing, yelled out “Mum, Anton said fuck!” and within seconds he was getting several layers of shit smacked out of him. Mum must have travelled through three walls to get from the girls’ bedroom to the living room in the 3.3 seconds it took to arrive on the scene to hand out justice.

It went like this (in about the same time it takes to read it):

Faaarx on the Run

“Mum, Anton said fuck!”

“Huq, you fucken rude bastard”

Aaaaaargh! Nooo! Ouch!

Ha ha ha (me laughing)

I sat on the couch transfixed in equal measures of amusement, awe and horror. I instantly rose to the defence of my hapless brother. Not because I felt sorry for him, but because I was worried that this crazy woman could turn on me. I calmly explained that Anton said fox as in Fox on the Run, but she was gone and laying into Charlene for swearing and dobbing before I could finish my explanation.

Ironically mum hated it when we dobbed.

The Blood Bath, Parts I & II

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It wasn’t just swearing that sparked mum’s lightening aggression. Thankfully I was a spectator to her ferocious reaction to one of the funniest and bizarre series of events to occur in our family home.

It was around the time of the Fox on the Run debacle. It was a Saturday afternoon and Dad was working overtime. My sisters were having a bath together and quietly splashing away. I was in the lounge room, mum was doing some housework and Anton went to the toilet. The toilet was next to the bathroom with the bath against the plaster wall that separated the two.

All was quiet until Anton, while sitting on the loo decided to hum Tchaikovsky. Why a teenage boy would be running through the 1812 Overture on the shitter is beyond me. But that’s exactly what he was doing. Without the benefit of The London Symphony Orchestra and Band of the Welsh Guards for effect, he decided to bang on the walls when it came to the big finale – da da da da dada dah dah daaah BOOM BOOM!

All hell broke loose. I remember hearing two loud thuds, followed by the splash of bath water and two little wet, naked and terrified girls running and screaming through the house in the mistaken belief that we had been bombed by the boogie monster.

It was about to get better.

In a matter of seconds mum had shaken out of her confused state to assess the situation and attack the source of the mayhem. This is where I wish I grew up in an age of mobile phones with cameras. Mum demonstrated in the most awesome possible way that even the toilet was no sanctuary from her fury. Above the sound of screaming twin girls you could hear the toilet door being kicked in, the shrill from my brother who had no idea about the pandemonium for which he was copping a hiding, my cursing mother and the loud snap of a toilet seat breaking.

It gets even better!

The Blood Bath, Part II

A few weeks after Anton’s bruises healed and my parents replaced the broken toilet seat, an incredible sense of déjà vu struck our household. It was a Saturday afternoon, dad was at work, the girls were in the bath, I was in the lounge, mum was doing housework and Anton was on the toilet. Once again I heard the splash of bath water and two little wet, naked and terrified girls running and screaming through the house. Mum needed no time to assess the situation and immediately went on the attack; once more kicking down the toilet door and accosting my poor, confused brother. Again there was a snapping noise, but this time it was the wooden spoon mum used to hit him breaking in half.

Everything was almost exactly like the first incident, except there was no BOOM BOOM.

Mum fucked up big time. It wasn’t my brother banging on the wall that sent the girls screaming from the bathroom at all. One of them poured a whole bottle of Dettol into the bath causing a burning sensation that caused their distress.

An empty Dettol bottle and milky grey bath water would prove Anton’s innocence, but by then it was too late.

On Mum’s Secret Service

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One of the coolest things I made was an FM bug.

When I was about 15, I found a new hobby making things with electronic kits that required soldering components like resistors and transistors onto printed circuit boards. One of the coolest things I made was an FM bug. This crude spy device had a little microphone which can be picked up from another room using a radio tuned to around 83 on the FM dial. One day after school I hid it in my sisters’ room and sat at the kitchen table listening to them talking on my ghetto blaster.

Mum asked what I was listening to and I told her it was Michelle and Charlene. Intrigued, she sat down only to hear Charlene swearing in Maltese. In a flash she was gone. One second my mother was with me, the next I could hear her dishing out carnage through my radio.

Remember that movie Who Dares Wins about the British SAS attack on the Iranian Embassy siege in London? What happened to my sisters reminds of the scene where the terrorists are chatting away totally oblivious to the fact that commandos were about to burst through a wall and shoot them through the head. My sisters could not have been prepared for mum to come bursting through the door to hand out the bollocking they copped.

For my efforts I copped a smack across the back of the head for spying on my sisters – even the SAS thank their intelligence people.