Having spent yesterday afternoon out shopping for Christmas presents, my thoughts turned to what sort of presents I remembered receiving in the Fifties. (No, Fifties month won’t go away even now that it’s turned into two months.)
One of my best ever presents was a birthday gift from my parents: a large doll called Sally, who even now sits on a shelf in the conservatory, tiara rakishly over one eye, wearing a dress I knitted for her when I was about eight. She is rather well-preserved for her age, although I seem to remember her having a hair transplant at one stage because I had played so much with her original hair that it fell out in clumps. The tiara is a later addition. I was interested to see her twin sister in the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh.
My brother and I also received a memorable joint present one Christmas of a puppet theatre constructed by my father out of wood and canvas. This was the inspiration for many puppet shows, including the ones staged by two friends of the family who later went on to have professional careers in the theatre. I think we started out with Noddy and Bigears puppets, although I had caught a glimpse of children’s television at a friend’s house and really wanted an Andy Pandy puppet.
My father used to make lots of odd things, often out of old furniture, and he also made a doll’s house for me and a huge landscape for my brother’s train set. One of his more dangerous creations was a home-made chemistry set with real glass bottles and test-tubes. This wasn’t quite as weird as it sounds, since he was a chemistry lecturer by profession. But it was all part of a kind of war-time spirit of make-do-and-mend that I think never really left the people who had lived through the war. One of the few other presents I can really remember vividly was a new dress which my mother hadn’t made herself!