Wednesday, 28 March 2012

You Can't Always Get What You Want !

If you have been following my blog............ Oh, heavens, well done you ! You need a medal and a bottle of head-ache pills....... you will probably know that I lived in Guisborough in the 1950s. From the age of 5 to the grand old age of 11, that pretty, rural, North Yorkshire market town was my world. There were many delights in that lovely place, not least the idyllic location, nestled in a valley in the Cleveland Hills.
It was a wonderful town in which to grow and I have very fond memories of my childhood, full of adventure, of picnics and treasure hunts and wandering free through fields and woods with siblings and chums.
However, all the best things in life are not, necessarily, free and sometimes pleasures can be purchased in glittering palaces and come at considerable cost.

Stockelds today.

The glittering palace that held my attention was the local Toy Shop !!  Stokelds was located on Fountain Street and was a stationers and a toy shop, and to me it was heaven !
It had all the usual toys of the era; the Hornby train-sets and Tri-ang toys, bicycles and trucks. The Silver Cross, carriage built, dolls prams; perfect replicas of the 'real' thing.  Jigsaws, their chunky wooden pieces presented in sturdy boxes, with bright scenes on the lid. Dominoes in wooden boxes with sliding lids, just like larger versions of the wooden pencil boxes. Snakes and Ladders and Ludo and Draughts, all together in a Compendium of games........ perfect for Winter nights; TVs were a rarity in the early 1950s !!
Cowboy outfits with furry 'chaps' and Stetsons with braided decoration around the brim. Lone Ranger masks and Indian head-dresses of multi-coloured feathers and 'leather' holsters with silver metal guns. Ah, guns ! There were guns galore !  Sharpshooters and rifles and 'spud' guns. Guns in which one inserted  'caps' and then, when the trigger was pulled, the cap exploded with a bang and a rather satisfying little puff of smoke and the smell of burning.  Bows and arrows and swords and daggers and all  manner of weapons to satisfy even the most blood-thirsty of little boys !  Nothing was deemed 'too dangerous' in those days. " 'Elf 'n Safety" was not yet the bane of everyone's life.
There were catapults of all sizes and glass marbles, shining like jewels in little cotton bags. Skittles and roller skates and jacks. Cricket bats for the Summer, tennis rackets and table tennis balls and bats with a ball attached by an elastic 'string'. This string usually snapped after a few whacks and the ball would go flying off into someone's face and the poor victim would proudly sport a black eye and an air of fake bravado for days.

Then, at the back of the shop, was the section that drew my attention and held the object of my desire. First there were the teddies; proper, firm, solid bears, not the fluffy imposters of today and the golliwogs, which are no longer seen........ thought of as too un-PC, too racist. I barely glanced at them, but walked reverently towards .............. the dolls !!!
Ah, yes ! Baby dolls in romper suits, dolls in frilly dresses with golden ringlets,ragdolls in bright patchwork frocks, with woollen hair under their poke bonnets. Smaller dolls, dressed in pleated skirts and 'sensible' jumpers, tall  'walking ' dolls with long straight legs and a supercilious smile. Dolls whose eyes closed when one laid them on their back, dolls that said,
                                                 " Mama "
when tipped backwards and forwards, black dolls with bandanas round their dark curls. All were wonderful but ................ there 'she' was, on a plinth all on her own !!  The prize, the coveted treasure, the thing I wanted most in the whole world, the doll I christened 'Betsy' ................. for that would be her name when finally she was mine !

She stood, oh I guess, 12-14 ins high and had long black plaits, a rosebud mouth and big blue eyes. She was beautiful, rosy-cheeked perfection in her neat, powder  blue dress with white lace collar. But the attraction of Betsy was the extra item, the icing on the cake !.......................... She came with a complete collection of clothes, displayed in a suitcase that opened out to form a dinky little wardrobe. She had 4 other dresses, a darling little 'princess line' coat in bright red wool, a tartan pleated skirt and a white blouse, some beige jodhpurs and a green sweater, boots, socks and pink plastic shoes and the sweetest little cotton voile nightdress, trimmed with little flowers and scraps of lace, oh yes,............ and a beret and scarf for chilly days !
Oh, how I longed for Betsy and her generous supply of clothing, non of my other dolls were so richly endowed, but pleading and cajoling fell on deaf ears.  She was expensive and we had no money for such fripperies. Children, in those days, were told  "No" and "No" it was - No "ifs" , "buts", or "maybes" and I dare not question my parents decision.

Whenever we went to Stockelds for stationery for my Mama, or for marbles or jacks or a Birthday jigsaw or other such treat, I would go to the doll section and pay homage to Betsy and she would smile down at me and whisper of how she would love to come home with me. But, of course, we always left without her.

After a while I realised that she would never be mine and so, pragmatically, I decided to make a wardrobe of 'Betsy' clothes for my own dolls.  I was about 8yrs old by then and I had been taught to sew by my darling Nana. I told her of my plan and begged some scraps of material and Nana generously gave me an assortment of swatches and a lovely little sewing box, complete with needles, threads, scissors and such and I began. I made skirts and dresses and sometimes the clothes were too small or the necks were too tight or the dress fell off the poor doll's shoulders.  Sometimes the press-stud fastenings were far too big and clumsy for the delicate fabric, but eventually, after much perseverance, I was turning out neat little dresses, coats, nightwear, evening outfits, everything . My dolls must have been the best dressed in Yorkshire !

I then progressed to attempting something for myself, designing and drawing the pattern onto newspaper and cutting out the fabric on my bedroom floor. Then, sitting cross-legged on my bed like some little elf from  a fairy story, I hand-stitched my first 'proper' item. A navy blue, flower-sprigged, glazed cotton dress, with hand-sewn button holes down the back !  And it was perfect ............. well, perfect from a couple of feet away !!  The stitching round the neck was a little wobbly but it fitted beautifully and my pride knew no bounds - I was thrilled - I was a seamstress !!

After that I made almost all of my Summer dresses and nightdresses and my Hallowe'en fancy dress costumes.  This early success fired my lifelong obsession with fashion and sewing and design and even when I was older I made many outfits, all neatly hand stitched and was the envy of my friends, who couldn't understand why they could not find the same designs in the shops. My best friend Joan and I would buy material at the Market on a Wednesday and I would draw out our patterns on the ubiquitous newspaper and cut out the pieces, pin it all together and then we would handstitch like crazy and wear our brand new items on the Friday night. Much to the chagrin of our pals who imagined we knew of some little boutique but were withholding the location.  But I digress !!

I would like to tell you that Betsy eventually became mine. That I woke one Christmas morning and there she was, resplendent at the foot of my bed; that I obtained my hearts desire. But life isn't like that, is it ? That is only for fairy tales.
No, I was never to own Betsy, but I believe I was all the richer for that. If my parents had indulged me and bought the doll and all her finery, would I have bothered to sew things myself ?  Would I have progressed to making my own clothes, would I have been half as creative ? Perhaps, but maybe a part of me would be missing. I would not have learned a valuable lesson, I would have expected everything in life to be easy, to never try to make the best of what I had. I would not have had the fun and sense of achievement, the joy of making something unique and not relying on someone else.

In my youth, one of my favourite bands was the 'Rolling Stones'. They sang  " You can't always get what you want " and , you know, I think sometimes it's just as well !

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