Hello Dolly

I never had a doll when I was a child like most little girls. My mother had made me an adorable knitted brown cat with green buttons for its eyes. I named him Purrkins! Don't know why she knitted a cat because I grew up with a dog and never came into contact with cats until I owned Sesame in London in the 70s. Purrkins is in my polyphoto when I was about four with lovely curly hair and a winning smile. Alas I threw out my photo archive in my lost years! 

Later I had a pyjama case in the form of a dog called Bimbo. My mother made him a burgundy waistcoat. I never stuffed my pyjamas in him. I kept them both all my life until I sold 1950s vintage Bimbo to Abdul, the Egyptian antique dealer at the local shop Alexandra Antiques for a song during those lost years in Brighton in 2006. As for Purrkins, who knows? I think he went with green haired Born Again Christian Liz Lucas married to Uncle Denis, the clown, a close friend of my magician husband Martin. I must find out if he is still purring, the cat I mean not Denis! 

I used to like Teddies but never owned one until a few 'spoke' to me in a charity shop in Brighton so I took them home and displayed them on a chair in my lounge. Now they nestle on the tallboy in my bedroom hidden by a plethora of vintage and modern hats! 

Dolls and teddies went together hand in hand at vintage shows in America, London and Paris. I hated the famous French highly collectible Bebe Jumeau dolls with their marked bisque heads and eyes which opened and closed. 

When I lived in Paris in the late 70s, I frequented Mere Catherine Jamet in her wonderful eccentric shop next door to Serge Gainsborough's house in the 7th district with dolls, tin toys, games, figural tins and automata. Those were the days when shops were full of curiosities as were its clientele. A lovely lady and I enjoyed spending time with her hanging out in her Aladdin's Cave before she tragically died of cancer. Then there was miserable petite Hugette in Marche Clignoncourt, the famous Paris flea market, who only dealt in dolls never having children of her own. She took, via my good self, private English lessons from my close friend the American artist, writer and poet Arlene Hiquily. But all these characters are long gone with no one to replace them. Some had children, some did not. Some had teddies too. I had a 1980s Steiff teddy watch and got orders every time I wore it in Paris. 

I never had a comfort blanket doll or anything to chew or slobber on when I was a child but my mother's older sister, Doll (yes that was really her name), lived in Hermanus, Cape, South Africa and gave me a flat, felt Sambo head of a black woman complete with Zulu beads around her neck. Also I received a celluloid black joined tiny doll plus various beaded Zulu bangles. 

South Africa came to Liverpool as we were inundated with family members on my father's side demanding hospitality! Why they came to Liverpool of all places, who knows. I used to run up to my mauve bedroom after dinner avoiding the usual topic - Apartheid. It was a different matter when in 1982 my husband and I wanted a bed in Sea Point, Cape Town from my relative. Suddenly no bed was available! 

How strange that I would always have black Jamaican, American or Jamaican/Cuban friends throughout my life in London, Brazil, Paris, Havana and even Brighton! 

The other day I surprised myself in Lewes, East Sussex buying an international collection of national costume dolls. Why? For their traditional dress and pieces of vintage textiles? The collection had been started in the thirties by an old lady. There must have been 35/40 in the beautiful collection. No idea what I will do with them apart from displaying a few in my home. 

I remember when Liz Grieves, partner of the erudite founder of the British Ephemera Society, Maurice Rickards in 1976, told me her secret story. She was in Hamleys and passed through the teddy department by chance at Christmas. She espied a Teddy that 'spoke' to her languishing on a shelf who looked like her late companion Maurice. She soldiered on until she got to the cash till and lined up with the rest of the mummies to pay for their toys and dolls. She said the Teddy's eyes burned into her as if Maurice was speaking to her from 'the other side'. She ran back to buy her beloved Teds. So Liz at 75 bought her first Teddy bringing home the spirit of her dearly departed beloved!!! 'Don't tell anyone', she sheepishly pleaded with me. That was long ago and far away. No doubt she too, has joined Maurice in the afterlife. 

But all our toys and dolls hold cherished secrets and remain immortal because we only 'borrow' them for a while until the next Being gives them love, care and a new home! 

Written in August 2015 in Lisa Feldman's writing group. Brighton 

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