A blue melamine cup…
What is it about that particular shade of baby blue – deeper than powder, softer than steel – which is so consoling, so pacifying, so utterly redolent of childhood? And when rendered in melamine, perhaps the ultimate soft edged yet unbreakable material, the association is intensified again.
Baby blue featured very little in our 1970s’ household and yet the blue of that cup more strongly evokes early childhood than contemporaneous staples such as ubiquitous brown carpets or a sofa’s pukey orange.
It feels like that particular shade might have been born in the nurseries of the immediate post-war era. Blue slows the metabolism, calms the nerves… Like invalid cookery and Boots The Chemist, it provided a hygienic, protective wrap for atomic babies, consolation in an uncertain age.
I half-remember a flashback scene in an early Absolutely Fabulous where cot-bound baby Edina is comforted by a gently cooing mummy June Whitfield. We see the new antispectic white-tiled world from Edina’s viewpoint but I’m sure there is also baby blue, perhaps in mother’s dress or a nurse’s tunic, for more than anything, this is the colour of the NHS, the diluted authority of a navy police force rendered oh-so comforting.
“I dare you!”
That melamine cup conjures one particular incident: it’s summer 1969 and next door’s neighbour – a towering giant of an eight year-old – persuaded this five year old, for a dare, to pass through a low, concrete pipe carrying a shallow stream under a main road at the back of our house. He would meet me the other side.
I don’t recall much of the darkened journey or the trepidation which accompanied it. I do recall being found out by my mother and sent to bed at 5pm without any tea. I lay accompanied by my constant bedtime companion, a giant panda called Peter, and on the table beside the bed, a blue melamine cup of tap water.
The words “You could have been killed!” still stung my ears and chilled my spine but all I could actually hear was the loud tick-tock of a (melamine) alarm clock, the swish of an occasional car and the distant chatter of my friends playing on the road.
Light filtered through daytime curtains in the way which only summer light can – unnatural, disturbing, the light of deprivation. Normally a succour to nightmares, the water in the cup had become prison ration austerity, the ultimate in neutrality and antiseptic punishment.
Yet somehow through this, the soft-hard blue melamine maintained its unbreakable comfort as if it had been chosen to prevent a prisoner from coming to harm. It was like my mother’s presence in the room, still nurturing even though I had been disobedient.
So there I lay awake for countless wide-eyed hours, gazing into the blue, listening intently to the racing tick-tock of the alarm clock, until day became night and sleep finally descended.
I learned my lesson and never went down the concrete pipe ever again.
That shade of infinitely mid-mid-blue continued to crop-up though less frequently as time went by. I think particularly of an Adidas skinny-rib T-shirt in 1978. Now, baby blue is largely confined to NHS logos and sanitary ware products or the textured panel of an Oral B toothbrush.
The memory of that particular afternoon, so confining and nerve-shattering at the time, now raises a smile.
My cup overfloweth.