RED - Julie

I called it my “Red Phase” but the adults around me at the time probably called it, if they were being kind, my “proper little madam phase”, or when not being so kind my “ right little brat phase”. In all honesty I can’t recall exactly how it started but my resplendent red velvet party dress must have been a big factor. When I wore it I felt special, more importantly I got every child’s heart’s desire – attention and compliments. So of course I wanted to wear it all the time and not just for parties.

My pronouncement that from now on I would ONLY wear red was also helped by the very fortunate fact that my school uniform included a red jumper. As the “red phase” progressed more rules, defined by the very best of child logic ensued. As black and white photographs were not called colour photographs I concluded that black and white were not real colours so I could still wear my white vest and pants and knee high socks and the black school uniform skirt. Otherwise everything must be red. This was a serendipitous development that allowed the adult indulgence of my phase. I had a red duffle coat, red wellies, red school bag and even a red light shade and curtains for my room. Any item not red (or black and white) was summarily rejected.

How and why my “red phase” escalated to food is even more of a mystery, but escalate it did until I was the Red Controller of my entire world. Yes you’ve guessed it was only possible for me to eat red white or black food (well I didn’t eat much of that) and the rules became ever more complex. Mince and steak as they were red before cooking were ok. White bread, iced buns were acceptable as was cooked bread, i.e. toast and certainly pasta. Anything made from, or should I say flavoured by, strawberries or raspberries especially jam was perfect. My mother patiently listened to the reasons why strawberry ice cream, despite being pink was ok but a pink fluffy jumper knitted by my Aunt was not – it hadn’t been red originally like the strawberries I explained. I ate only the red smarties and fruit pastilles in a packet and devoured strawberry sherbets. All washed down with lashings of red squash. I had strawberry jam sandwiches for lunch and tomato pasta for supper. I was in red heaven, not a vegetable in sight.

My father, who was frequently grumpy about something, weather, work or other drivers etc., did complain to my mother on a few occasions. Usually he did this when we were out and I would wail “what can I eat that’s red? I want to go home!!”. She would quietly say it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it but if we make a fuss she’ll just get worse. And I would eat chips (potatoes are white remember), fish fingers (cut off the yucky orange breadcrumbs) and a large helping of tomato ketchup but not a single nasty green pea.

However my perfect little fiefdom was seriously challenged at, what I now call, “partygate”. At my birthday party mother obediently provided lots of red food, jam sandwiches, crisps (potatoes!), red jelly and ice cream and a cake decorated in red smarties and glace cherries. However others did not afford the same considerations. A girl in my class, whose parents had a big house, invited the whole class, not just a few well known close friends, to her birthday party. I wore my red dress, now getting just a little bit tight. It made playing some of the games difficult and uncomfortable but I still looked like a princess, mother told me so. However when it came to the birthday tea it was all so fancy. Animal shaped sandwiches, chocolate caterpillar cake, stuff on sticks in oranges. Nothing was RED, not even any jam sandwiches! The helpers, already floundering with 30 plus children weren’t very sympathetic either, even when I cried, stamped and yelled my despair and the 29 plus kids just sniggered behind their sausage rolls. By the time mother came to collect me I was distraught and hungry and even worse my beloved dress had split on one of the seams.

When she gaily asked me if I’d had a nice time I exploded into a molten eruption of child’s venom.

“NO, I didn’t it was the worst party EVER, it was awful and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT” I screamed. “You never told them I can only eat red food – it’s all your fault”

Mother looked a little aghast at this violent outburst.

“You could eat other coloured food if you really wanted to, it wouldn’t hurt you”

Oh dear a red rag (excuse the pun) to a bull!

“Yes it would” I screamed “yes it would, you don’t understand, it’s not fair. I HATE YOU” and so on and so on all the way home. She remained stoically silent. Not even speaking when we got home, me by now loudly protesting my imminent death from starvation. She went to the cupboard pulled out a large sliced white and the jar of strawberry jam.

“You had better make yourself a sandwich then” she said before leaving me alone. She went down the end of the garden. I made a very jammy sandwich and another until I felt quite sick. Still no mother, so tired and nauseous I took myself off to my room.

I woke sometime later to raised voices. I crept to the top of the stairs, but the sitting room door was closed so I couldn’t hear much, just a few words and phrases. Ridiculous nonsense, got to stop, you’re too soft, I have a plan, but as it wasn’t relevant to me I went back to bed.

Anyway the next day everything was back to normal, red food every meal. Just what the darling daughter ordered. At the weekend mother took me shopping and we passed a dress shop. Mother stopped, staring in the window.

“Oh look at that” she exclaimed “you need a new red dress, look at that one!” It was glorious everything a red obsessed 7 year old could wish for. We went inside and I tried it on, it was perfect.

“Oh mummy it’s lovely. I love it so much, can I have it? Can I please?” I was in love, ecstatic.

“Of course you can darling” she smiled “but it is very expensive so you will have to save up and pay for it out of your own pocket money.”

This was a very puzzling development as I didn’t get pocket money and “save up for it yourself” didn’t sound familiar at all.

She continued, “your father and I think you are old enough to learn the value of money, how to earn it and save it for things you really want. So we are going to give you pocket money as a reward. When you have enough you can buy that beautiful dress. Isn’t that exciting darling?”

I wasn’t at all sure but I did want that red dress so I nodded meekly. “How long will it take to save up” I asked as patience is not something 7 year olds really understand as I watched forlornly as the dress went back on the shop window dummy. My little heart was breaking.

“It depends how often you earn a reward”

“Oh. Can I earn them quickly?”

“Yes dear, in fact you can start right now!”

“Oh yes please, I will be very good, promise”

Mother smiled and seemed very happy. A good start I thought.

“Lets’ go for lunch” and without really noticing I was in a café, red coat hanging on a hook and a child’s menu in my hands.

“Chips and fish fingers please” I asked politely hoping my behaviour meant a reward, the first step to my prize.

“And peas” added my mother to the young waitress.

“But I don’t eat peas, they’re green”

“Well that’s just it darling, we‘re going to pay you a reward every time you eat food that isn’t red or white. AND if you eat green vegetables you will get a double reward! I will buy you a nice red notebook or a wall chart so you can write down all your rewards until you reach your target. Then you can go and buy your red dress”

I didn’t know quite what to do but I wanted that dress so very, very much.

“You used to eat peas and carrots once upon a time so it won’ be too hard will it darling? I will ask the man in the shop to save the dress for you so don’t worry about that”

The food arrived; the plate was full of peas, green peas. I thought about asking if I got a reward for each pea but something in my mother’s steely gaze deterred me.

“Here” she passed the tomato ketchup, “cover them with this and pretend they’re red” and with a flourish she slapped the base of the bottle and with that ever satisfying slurp a splat of ketchup covered the peas.

“Go on eat up, that will be your first TWO rewards towards your new red dress.”

I ate them, swallowing without chewing until the plate was clear. And so ended my “Red Phase”, well for food at least. I discovered, and learned to like, sweet corn, cabbage and even broccoli by the time I had earned enough rewards to buy that dress. I still have it at the back of the wardrobe and occasionally get it out, just to remind myself to keep eating my greens. As for wearing red well nowadays I prefer it for my underwear.