Childish Things

‘Do you have something you have kept through the years? Something small, like a photo or a piece of jewellery? A letter? Or maybe something else?’ A Feather In My Wallet 

My latest Arts Council project invites people to bring personal possessions to a special workshop and share the stories behind them. 

So far, the objects have varied from button hooks to watches, bibles to newspaper clippings. The invitation inevitably sends people down a certain lane of thought, so there have been several pieces of jewellery and half a dozen photographs, one from a wallet. But it’s the childhood dolls that have set me thinking, because I’ve realised I haven’t kept any of my own. 

Whatever became of my Action Girl doll, in her blue jumpsuit? And my impossibly pretty Pippa doll?

I’ve no idea, but photos can easily be found online. The harder loss is the set of mid-sized dolls with great hair. I was given one every Christmas for four years. The first was platinum blonde, another was a redhead, one had two dark braids and one (completely baffling to the seven year old me) had short mousy curls. I can still remember the disappointment when I unwrapped her. 

Sadly these cannot be found online. They would have been cheap dolls, and without a brand name, there’s little to go on. Which brings me to another toy I would love to find: a bendy kangaroo with a baby roo in her pouch. 

She was a Christmas present when my family were still living in a terraced house in Liverpool. Forget Father Christmas – I knew I was getting her because my parents were paying her off, at a shilling a week. Until then, she was in the toy shop on Priory Road, waiting.

She could never be described a cuddlesome. She was made of thick foam rubber with wire strands inside to make her bendable. Her long feet and sturdy tail made it possible for her to stand, and I know I was small, but I think she was genuinely large, over a foot tall. 

The problem with her was, the foam rubber hardened over time and began to crack. The wires became exposed. She was never going to be kept for decades like a teddy. I imagine she went to a jumble sale in the end. 

I would dearly love to see her again, but she is not in any of my childhood photos. Like so many small possessions, she was overlooked and under-valued when it came to capturing my early life. These days, parents seem to photograph their children more than ever, but how much attention is given to capturing the things that will hold real emotional power in the future?

How many photos of yourself as a child do you want to see? The novelty soon wears thin. What I would really love to see is the inside of my first childhood home, the one in Anfield. I cannot recollect it at all, since we left when I was six. What did my bedroom look like? What books were on my bookshelf? What toys were on my bed? What did I have in my treasures box?

What did I stick on my bedroom walls in the second house, as I moved into my teens? Todays teens will probably have this documented already, the backdrop in their selfies. But I don’t have a single snap. I would love to see the wallpaper, the paint colours. I remember the Pierrot bedspread, the purple mouse with the foot-long felt tail, the Whimsey figurines… but what else did I have? 

Curiously, my friend has just told me his family did document his childhood, generating hours of Hi-8 video footage that neither he nor his sisters want. ‘Why would I be interested?’ he said. ‘That is the past. I am interested in the future.’

Which now makes me wonder why is this notion of personal possessions so potent to me that I would build an entire project around it?

I am always fascinated by what we choose to hold onto, whether it is a memory or an actual object. It’s never random: there is always a reason. I like to explore what that reason might be. 

But why do I need to do that? Why do I need to make sense of things? Why can’t I just accept that things are? That is what my friend would say!

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