Linda Colling: ‘Put the kettle on, sweet cheeks’

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Are you married?” I asked the young woman in Penshaw tea rooms. “Yes,” she replied.

So I turned to her female companion and asked her the same question, to which she replied, “Yes... to each other,”

Thinking it was a wind-up, I persisted in asking the first girl: “Does your husband have a pet name for you?”

She gave me a steely glare... and then I noticed the matching wedding rings and realised they were indeed a married couple. Oops.

I’d ventured into the tea rooms to find out whether a survey that said 66 per cent of us use sickly sweet nicknames for lovers held any water.

But out here “darlings”, “babes”, “sweethearts” and “sugar plums” were as thin on the ground as the ice outside.

The survey revealed that “darling” and that downright dire “babe” were favourites but there are only so many pumpkins, snookie-ookums, furfys, tweeties, cutie pies, tiger-twinkies, toodle-pusses, and schmoopies you can take before the tummy heaves.

As for “Put the kettle on, sweet cheeks,” what a turn off.

Too many “darlings” and this endearment becomes just like “God bless you”.

It loses that special cachet and sounds as false and as fake as those pretending they are the perfect match. Hollow hollerings.

But it wasn’t “darling” but names of quite a different order when I popped into tea rooms.

What a riot I had asking folk what pet names they had for the love in their lives.

“We have been married 50 years and I wouldn’t like you to print it,” Terry McReady, 69, told me about what she calls her Gerard.

“When I want something I say sweetheart,” confessed 50 years-wed Olive Walker, 76, from Ryhope. Her Gerald, 75, just laughed it off.

Then another “it’s not printable” came from gran Edith Short, 66, who has known her Alan for 50 years and been wed for 40 of them.

Never mind not having a pet name for her, Alan admitted: “I’ve never sent her flowers in my life or bought her a bunch. Flowers do nothing for me.”

Er, Alan, it’s not about you. What an understanding wife you have. And Edith knows you so well: “He’d rather buy me a box of chocolates.”

To which this joker quipped: “At least I can eat chocolates.” She concluded: “We’re a funny couple,” I had to agree. Absolutely hilarious.

Father of three Robert Green, 52, of Penshaw, celebrated 30 years of marriage yesterday and laughed off his wife’s pet name for him with: “Git, that’s what I get called.”

But he reckoned after all these years he must be doing something right. And he certainly wasn’t joking about his special name for her: “Babs, just like Babs off the Royle family because she’s the loving side of the family.” How lovely.

Caroline Cains, 40, a Washington mother of five-month-old twins Matthew and James said she and her fiance Niki call each other “babe”.

Her friend, nurse Hayley Maughan, 47, a mother of two from Burnmoor, still sometimes hears a darling after 24 years of marriage, adding, “That’s when he’s in a good mood.”

Extravagant displays of affection and declarations of undying love will be played out this Valentine’s Day.

Some won’t dare do any other or their name would be mud... which reminds me of the massive bouquet a certain someone bought his wife. No, it wasn’t me.

This firebrand told me: “I didn’t have a vase big enough so he bought me one. The next day we had a minor disagreement and so the vase went to the wall and the flowers ended up all over the floor and the vase in smithereens.

“So it cost him twice as much because he had to replace the vase and the flowers. A Valentine’s Day I will never forget.” And for all the wrong reasons, darling.