A-Z Challenge – ‘U’
Up In Annie’s Room
This was a phrase I heard a lot when I was a boy in the 1940s and early 50s. I never gave its origin a thought in those days; I knew exactly what it meant.
In the stone cottage that was home we had a sitting room that was reached along a stone flagged corridor from the back door. The first door on the left led into the kitchen, the room that was always warm as it contained the black-leaded grate in which a coal fire burned. A second door on the left at the bottom of the corridor took you into the sitting room.
An open fireplace occupied the centre of the wall facing you, the deep red stone hearth bordered by a brass fender inside which rested a pair of heavy brass tongs. It was a party trick to place the tongs on the floor, to press down and lift one of the brass arms into the air. The trick was to challenge the unwary to repeat the feat. Of course you had to make sure you turned the tongs over to rest the raised arm on the floor before inviting the challenger to perform. They failed because the arm now on top was not articulated. I was banned from taking money from my friends in this way.
A polished round table occupied the centre of the room. This was the table, seating up to ten, that was used for countless wartime games of cards – Snap, Whist, Strip Jack Naked (Draw the Well Dry) and Cribbage – and board games like Ludo and Snakes and Ladders.
A dresser containing the best crockery stood against the left hand wall. To its right hung the board for the best game of all. Before I was allowed to play I had to learn to score; it was darts that made me proficient at mental arithmetic.
Watching adults play was frustrating, but it wasn’t long before I could join in. This is when I first hear the phrase ‘Up in Annie’s Room,” words that were uttered when you kept missing doubles and finished up needing double one to win. Annie’s Room has always been double one to me. I always assumed that this was because next to double twenty, double one was at the top of the board.
In our house though there was an additional hazard. Above the board the wall was made of canvas so if you missed up there the dart was liable to pass through the wall. Anyone sitting at the kitchen table was in the line of fire!
In researching the origin of the phrase again I found a suggestion that the complete phrase was “Up in Annie’s room, behind the clock” used when someone enquired about the whereabouts of some (lost) object. This either meant “I don’t know” or “I’m not telling you” and might be used by a mother to a child.
The 1995 Cassell Dictionary of Catchphrases gave “up in Annie’s room behind the clock (or…behind the wallpaper) as an explanatory phrase for when something disappears unaccountably about the house. It may have originated as a services catchphrase before the First World War, in reply to a query concerning someone’s whereabouts.
But who was Annie and where was her room?
I like the suggestion that the phrase may have arisen in the servants’ quarters in a stately home, Annie’s room belonging to either a child or a maid-servant.
It’s a coincidence, I think, that my grandmother and my mother were both called Annie and that my mother was once in service at a stately home. Sadly there is no-one in the family still alive who can tell me where.
I’ll have to settle for “double one.”