Today, I decided that I wasn’t going to start my marking, but instead give myself a long weekend after what has been an exhausting if thoroughly enjoyable semester.
I’m not even entirely sure what I did do today, except that it was very little: if you don’t count chatting to friends via Facebook, drinking coffee, listening to Elvis Costello, reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and enjoying the rain—and I don’t count those things.
But some time during the afternoon, I decided to play a spontaneously invented game called “Let’s see what interesting photographs I can take in my living room.” This is no doubt connected to my new passion for putting photographs on the blog. (And, really, who doesn’t like looking at photographs on the Internet?)
But then it turned out that the most interesting pictures were all the little inanimate faces that watch me every day from various perches around the room.
Most of these objects are connected to my childhood: old toys and so forth, now relegated (or elevated, depending on your attitude towards toys) to the status of ornaments. Not all of them are very ornamental, but I like having them around.
Take my Puggles, for instance:
(They’re very difficult to take a clear photograph of, the velvety little things. And yes, that is a Star Trek-branded magazine file behind them.)
Do people still remember Puggles? (People who visited back in the days when I used to store them on the back of the sofa probably remember them, since they’ve almost certainly been beaned in the head with them while blamelessly watching television—I know I have. Although they aren’t, strictly speaking, beanbags at all; they’re filled with crushed walnut shells, which is a fact that used to fascinate me as a child.)
Puggles were all the rage back when I was, I suppose, seven or eight? Maybe younger?
But they were toys that came with their own particular brand of nightmare.
Puggles arrived in little, velvet, drawstring bags; in fact, the bags were made out of the same material as the Puggles themselves, but I have never considered—until now—whether that meant that the bags were made out of the skins of other, less-fortunate Puggles.
That’s not the nightmarish part.
The bags had brass-encircled holes in the centre, for you to poke the Puggles’ noses out of. And you were sternly exhorted, in an accompanying pamphlet, to make sure you put the Puggles in the bag at night—otherwise, hunters would come along and grab them, to make them into Puggle pies.
And people think we’re destroying the current generation’s innocence.
I wonder sometimes how many hunters crept into my room at night, while I had the Puggles hanging off the posts of my bed, only to be foiled by the fact that the Puggles were in bags.
It boggles the mind.
Or what about Strawberry Shortcake?
Neither of these is Strawberry Shortcake, of course. The one on the left is Almond Tea. She normally wears overalls, but this particular doll was part of the “Party Pleaser” line; apparently, even tomboys have to wear skirts when they go to a party. More frightening still is the fact that these dolls were scented and, even though this one is well over twenty years old, she still smells.
(I would give the actual date, but I’ve forgotten. And, as a public service announcement, don’t try Googling “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Party Pleaser” unless you’ve got plans to bake a dessert.)
I’ve only just discovered from Wikipedia that Almond Tea is supposed to be Asian; well, Asian in a Strawberry Shortcake kind of way. Apparently, she’s from the country of “China Cup.” (Well, it was 1983 when she first appeared.)
I suppose that explains her pet, Marza Panda—alas, missing from my set, along with the doll’s plastic Mary Janes. Why are shoes always the first thing to go missing?
The other doll is Lemon Meringue; her pet, Frappe Frog, is also missing, but at least she never had shoes. She’s originally from a slumber-party range, which explains her terrifying eyes; they’re supposed to slide closed when she’s horizontal.
Now, one of them closes and the other sort of flickers for a while before settling half open. And we’re back to nightmares again.
But Mandy’s not nightmarish:
Mandy’s from a Fisher Price range called “My Friends,” from 1977. I think I must have been given her around about that time, because she was a gift from neighbours while we were still living in Scotland.
(She is a first-generation Mandy, because the cloth part of her body is pink-rosebud fabric, not the later yellow-rosebud fabric. See, wasn’t that an interesting fact?)
What I’ve always found interesting about Mandy is that I always assumed she’d come with that kicky little late-‘60s bob, but apparently she is supposed to have below-the-shoulder hair; I suppose her previous owner brought her up to date with contemporary fashions.
Mandy now lives next to Paddington Bear in the living room, which explains the “Please look after this bear” sign in the corner of the picture.
In the interests of parity, we have one of Nick’s childhood toys on Mandy’s other side:
Being as this robot is not mine, I have no fascinating information to impart and no anecdotes to tell. But he really does illustrate the title to this post: doesn’t he have the cutest face?
This doll, on the other hand, has a story:
(This isn’t a great photo—there are better ones—but I like the slight leaning to one side: she looks so nonchalant.)
This is a Kibbutznik, so-called because she was made and sold as a fund-raising exercise for one of the Israeli kibbutzes: Kibbutz Tzora, in this case.
(Interestingly, neither “kibbutz” or “kibbutznik” trigger off the spelling filter: the first I can understand; the second is stranger. I must do some more research on how broadly that term is applied now.)
The Kibbutznik was bought in Israel in 1986, when we were over there for a conference that my father was attending. I named her “Delilah,” because I was nine years old and it seemed like an appropriately biblical name.
She’s getting slightly shopworn, these days, but she’s still perhaps the most exotic doll on the shelf, even if she is being used as a book-end.
The final image isn’t a childhood toy but, given the title of the post, I couldn’t leave him out:
I love this dog’s little face beyond reason.
As best as I can tell, this is a modern Chinese or—more likely—Japanese knock-off of a well-known English model, probably a Staffordshire dog. (Staffordshire the potters, that is—not a Staffordshire bull terrier. I would link to a picture, but the only ones that I can find are from antiques dealers and will probably expire, causing irritating dead links.)
But what I love most is the fact that, at some point, someone stood back and thought, “You know what this dog needs? Eyebrows!”
Now it has a wickedly sardonic look that, combined with the slight backward tilt to the head, makes it seem as though it’s looking down on everything else in the living room.
This was a Christmas present from my parents, which meant it met two criteria: it was bought at auction well before Christmas and my mother displayed it in her living room for about six months, getting more and more attached to it in the process.
The end result was this conversation:
MUM: Mind, he looks good sitting next to the fireplace.
MUM: Oh, no, I know he’s yours.
ME: Damn skippy!
MUM: Oh, is that what you’re going to call him?
So Damn Skippy he is, the supercilious little hound.